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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 7 July 2015

[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Coastal Flood Risk

9.30 am

Melanie Onn (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered coastal flood risk.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward, and I welcome the Minister to his role in the new Government.

I am glad to be able to raise the issue of coastal flooding in my first Westminster Hall debate. Normally, flooding gets little or no attention from Westminster until a major flooding incident occurs; then, politicians of all parties cannot get to the flooded communities quickly enough, armed with their wellies—or not, as was the case with the previous Environment Secretary, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). Someone being forced to leave their home, seeing their possessions destroyed, or being unable to open their business is an extremely difficult thing for them to go through, so I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this issue.

We have seen several major flooding incidents over the past few years, several of which have caused huge disruption and devastation to many residents in my constituency, Great Grimsby. In December 2013, the east coast was hit by the largest tidal surge in 60 years. In June and July 2007, Yorkshire and Humberside was the region worst affected by the summer floods, which also affected coastal areas further down the east coast and across the south, as well as many inland areas. That was a consequence of the wettest summer on record. The floods in Grimsby last summer were also the result of exceptionally high rainfall, with some areas getting two weeks’ worth of rainfall in just one hour. Elsewhere, the early 2014 floods in the south-west and areas around the Thames came during the wettest winter on record.

What initially seemed like exceptional weather is quickly becoming the norm. According to the Met Office, four of the five wettest years in the UK since records began in 1910 have occurred in the 21st century. According to the Committee on Climate Change, sea levels around the UK coastline are now an average of 16 cm higher than they were at the end of the 19th century. It would be wrong to attribute each and every extreme weather incident to climate change, but it is clear that the climate is changing, and flooding is one of the main ways we are feeling the effects. History will repeat itself. We will see similar or even higher levels of rainfall and tidal surges, so are we doing enough to prepare?

Last week, the Committee on Climate Change reported on the progress being made under the national adaptation programme. The report is the first of its type and is required under the Climate Change Act 2008. The message in it is clear: the Government need to be taking much more urgent action to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change.

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Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. As the Member who represents the most beautiful coastline in the UK, the Giant’s Causeway, I am particularly delighted to discuss the issue.

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government must do much more on planning to prevent building in the floodplains along our coasts? There should be a moratorium—there should be no more building until the issues are resolved.

Melanie Onn: There is definitely a role for the Government in the planning rules for building on floodplains. Not enough consideration is given to the requirements on the builders of large numbers of new properties in such areas. There is clearly a role for the water companies as well, because there should be effective drainage in those areas. We need to increase the number of homes that we build throughout the country, so we must consider these factors.

One of the least controversial parts of the report by the Committee on Climate Change reads:

“Investment in flood and coastal defence assets will need to steadily increase in the future to counter the impacts of climate change.”

That was the consensus reached among all political parties following the devastation of the 2007 floods. Yet on coming into office in 2010, the previous Government abandoned that consensus and cut £100 million of funding from flood protection. Such short-sighted thinking is exactly the opposite of what is needed to protect against the effects of climate change.

After the 2013-14 floods, the Government made an additional £270 million available to repair and restore damaged flood defences. How much of that would have been needed had they not cut the budget in the first place? We will all be better off if we accept that these events are likely to become more frequent and so prepare ourselves better from now on.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out in detail its plans for capital investment in flood protection over the next six years, including the Grimsby docks flood defence scheme, which will protect more than 12,000 properties. Nevertheless, now that we are past the election, I urge the Government to support Labour’s call for an independent commission to set out flood defence spending in a much longer-term context. The Committee on Climate Change has said that the best-case scenario, on an assumption of 2° C of warming, would lead to at least an extra 45,000 properties being in the highest flooding risk category by the middle of the century. We know the future consequences of rising temperatures and sea levels. There should be parity between the length of time over which our adaptation strategy and our mitigation strategy are set out.

Although capital spending has been set out six years in advance, revenue spending on flood defences has been set only for the current financial year. With huge cuts to DEFRA’s budget coming in the Chancellor’s Budget statement tomorrow, many will be worried that funding to maintain existing defences will be further reduced. The National Audit Office reports that already half the nation’s flood defences are only minimally maintained. According to the Environment Agency, three quarters of defences around the Humber estuary are in less than good condition. On a visit in my

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constituency at the weekend, the council’s flood risk officers told me that as cracks in the sea defence walls appear each year, they are cementing over them by hand. We need investment in a continual maintenance programme. Will the Minister reassure us that his Government will put an end to the perverse situation in which new defences are put up while existing defences are crumbling?

As well as calling for greater investment in building and properly maintaining defences, the Committee on Climate Change said in its report that local authorities need to do more to manage the risk of surface water flooding by heavy rainfall. Following the floods in Grimsby last summer, North East Lincolnshire Council’s cabinet member for the environment, Dave Watson, is working with Anglian Water, along with his colleagues, to identify where flooding has resulted from Anglian’s infrastructure. They have recommended a change in maintenance practices or sewer upgrades to reduce the risk of flooding. But should not water companies be maintaining their systems in that way anyway? They are, after all, private monopolies. Is it not time the Government ensured that the companies do a bit more for the public they serve? They could start by ensuring that water companies provide better maintained drainage systems that can cope with heavy rainfall.

The Government must do all they can to minimise the risks of flooding, but the reality is that there will always be some people affected by it. It is therefore vital that Government relief reaches flood victims as quickly as possible. People in the Yarborough area of Grimsby are still recovering from the floods of last summer. Across the country, we saw delays in the Government stepping in to take action, and in getting relief funding out to affected residents and businesses. One example is the support promised to the fishermen in the south-west who were unable to work because of last year’s storms. Six months on from that extreme weather, just one fisherman has received any Government support. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have prepared a more effective relief programme for the next major flooding incident, both for providing immediate assistance while communities are flooded and for getting payments to them afterwards?

One major problem identified by North East Lincolnshire Council’s investigation into last summer’s floods was a lack of information for residents. The lack of transparency across the board on flooding is a major problem, and I will set out a few examples. First, there is a lack of a reliable warning system for surface water flooding. River flooding has a 27% false alarm rate, but surface water flooding has a 74% false alarm rate. Last year the lack of warning in Grimsby meant that the council was unable to make preparations in advance of the rainfall. The relevant agencies need to make a lot of progress in improving the warning system, and that is not something that local authorities can pursue on their own. Will the Minister update us on what the Government are doing to improve detection and warning systems?

North East Lincolnshire Council also identified a lack of awareness as a cause for avoidable disruption and stress for those who were flooded last year. Many property owners in high-risk areas do not know that they live on a floodplain, so many of those people were unprepared. With no plans for what to do in the event

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of a flood and many not knowing which organisation had responsibility for helping them, flood victims were left feeling that they were being passed from pillar to post as they contacted several different bodies before receiving assistance. We need to make people aware that their property is at risk of flooding and empower communities to protect themselves.

Finally on the subject of transparency, the Environment Agency in particular needs to do a far better job of opening up and starting to have conversations with local people. In my short time as a Member of Parliament so far, I have been contacted by several different constituents expressing their bemusement at actions taken by the agency. For example, more than 1,000 people have signed a petition to get the River Freshney dredged. The Environment Agency has rejected the proposal, saying that it is not a priority. At the same time, however, it has blocked planning permission for a housing development next to the river, because of the high flood risk. I am not saying that the Environment Agency is wrong in either of those decisions, because there might be good reasons for both, but the reasons have not been communicated to the communities that are ultimately affected by them.

Following the 2013-14 floods in the south-west, local people expressed considerable anger that the Environment Agency had failed to dredge the Rivers Parrett and Tone in the Somerset levels. The then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), agreed and said that the Environment Agency had “made a mistake”, in effect blaming it for the floods. His motivations were clear—he was directing the blame away from the Government for cutting funding to flood defences. The feeling among the local people was real, however, and the anger shown at the time should give the Environment Agency reason to become far more transparent. If dredging was not the right method in those circumstances, a more open, ongoing dialogue with local communities might have won them over to seeing that, or it might at least have given people an understanding of why the decision was made. Had dredging been appropriate, a two-way dialogue with local communities might have led to the realisation of that before the floods, preventing some of the devastation eventually caused.

In conclusion, the scale and regularity of floods in recent years have shown the costs of the failure to prepare for them, both financially and from the disruption and devastation caused to people’s lives. The Government need to be ahead of the curve and not wait for ever-more destructive flooding before taking the real preventive action that we need.

Several hon. Members rose

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. We have six Members to speak, apart from the Labour party spokesman and the Minister. I want to get them all in, so will they please keep an eye on the clock? Please, on no account, speak for more than 10 minutes. I am sure that I can rely on the first speaker, Mr Martin Vickers, to obey my instructions implicitly.

9.43 am

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Thank you, Sir Edward. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and it is particularly appropriate that

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you are in the Chair, because you know the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area well and have experienced flooding in your own constituency on a number of occasions.

Since the flood surge in December 2013 I have spoken in a series of debates on flooding, so today will seem a bit of an action replay as the debate continues in pretty much the same way. My constituency was badly hit; in the village of Barrow Haven virtually every home was flooded, and the New Holland and Goxhill area was particularly badly affected. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, is right that parts of Grimsby and the north end of Cleethorpes would have been severely affected had it not been for the actions of the port master at Grimsby to lower the levels in the dock. That saved thousands of homes in the north end and in the East Marsh area of Grimsby from flooding.

The 2013 surge was 1.93 metres higher than the one that killed 326 in the east coast floods of 1953. Since the 2013 tidal surge, the local authorities, the local enterprise partnership, the Environment Agency and local MPs from the Humber area have come together to produce a comprehensive document that is at present being mulled over by DEFRA officials. In reply to a recent question from me, the Secretary of State stated that there would be an announcement on any progress this month.

In last December’s autumn statement, the Chancellor announced the contribution of £80 million towards a proposed scheme, which is an adequate down payment. Yes, £1.2 billion is an enormous amount of money, but I emphasise that it is over a period of 17 years and it is essential for the people in my constituency and in neighbouring Grimsby, as well as to the south, that the work is carried out. The Environment Agency recently completed some flood defence work in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area, which is welcome, and it no doubt contributed to containing the surge 18 months or so ago. The context for the scheme is that it is a national one, not only local, and I emphasise that the £1.2 billion is for the whole of the Humber estuary. The scheme would protect an enormous number of homes and an important industrial and business area. The Grimsby-Immingham dock complex is, by tonnage, the largest port in the country. Without proper protection, those and other ports on the estuary are particularly vulnerable. A third of the country’s coal imports pass through Immingham, and the refineries there constitute 28% of UK refining capacity.

Based on best estimates, there will be another event with the potential to do as much damage as the December event. My constituents and those of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, as well as everyone throughout the Humber estuary, deserve protection equivalent to that for a once-in-50-years event, rather than the estimated existing once-in-200-years level. Associated British Ports—as I mentioned, the ports are crucial to the local and national economies—has produced a case study and a strategy document expressing its concerns and emphasising the importance of the Humber ports to the national economy. In December 2013, Immingham was out of action for about two and a half or three days. Had that been two and a half or three weeks, the impact on the local economy and the maintenance of power supplies would have been enormous.

The hon. Lady was somewhat critical of the previous DEFRA Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), but in fairness it is

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worth pointing out that he was in Immingham receiving reports from officials and local MPs, among others, within 36 hours of the December 2013 event. It was immediately recognised that the port was of great strategic importance to the country.

I appreciate that the timing of the debate is somewhat inconvenient, because the Budget statement is tomorrow. I therefore suspect that the Minister might not be as free as he would have been in a week or two’s time to give us details of how much more money the Chancellor will give us. Since the incident and the compiling of the report, MPs from throughout the Humber region have met with the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to urge them to commit to the scheme. I suspect that the Minister will be somewhat reluctant to say much—although Budget leaks are common these days, so he might like to give us advance warning that we will receive that cash.

It is an awful lot of money, but my constituents, those of the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and those in the wider Lincolnshire area deserve adequate protection. It is fair to say that flooding issues have not been given the priority they deserve in recent years. Local knowledge—for example, from internal drainage boards or the farming community, which is particularly well versed in these matters—needs to be used as well as all the mapping and scientific data collected by the Environment Agency. We need to make better use of the farming community, to serve as flood wardens and the like.

My constituents in Barrow and New Holland live in fear. Twice in the past six years their homes have been flooded. That cannot be repeated. I urge the Minister to give us at least a hint of what might be coming in tomorrow’s Budget and commit to the £1.2 billion that is absolutely essential over the next 17 years.

9.50 am

Mr Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing this important debate. I will make a couple of brief points related to my constituency.

As is the case with Grimsby, the main overall flooding risk for Hartlepool is the tidal flood risk from the North sea. A tidal flood risk mapping study carried out a couple of years ago identified two principal areas of tidal flood risk in Hartlepool. The first is in the area of the south marina and Church Street, where wave overtopping could lead to significant flooding of residential and commercial property, key roads such as Mainsforth Terrace, and the railway line and station. The second is on the headland, where it was projected that wave overtopping from the town wall defences could lead to significant flooding; in a worst case scenario, flooding could cut off the headland from the mainland.

In addition, in the Hartlepool area, Seaton snook and Greatham creek and beck discharge directly into the Tees estuary. Those watercourses are tidal and therefore vulnerable to rising sea levels, high tides and storm surges. Work is taking place to strengthen the sea defences on the town wall. In addition, a £10 million scheme, funded by the Environment Agency and Hartlepool Borough Council, will place concrete blocks on the existing sea wall from the Heugh gun battery to the far end of Marine Drive. That will help 500 households in the area.

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Capital works are ongoing in my constituency, but I have a number of questions to the Minister. With coastal flooding risk, there is a need to be constantly vigilant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby said, we are increasingly finding that defences meant to withstand a once-in-100-years incident are insufficient. Given increasing severity of flooding and additional flood risk from climate change, what further funding can be given to coastal defences in vulnerable areas such as Hartlepool?

Secondly, capital funding is very welcome, although I would question whether it is sufficient. However, as my hon. Friend so eloquently said, in many respects the effectiveness of sea defences will be based on adequate maintenance, and council budgets have been reduced by as much as 40%—certainly, that is the case for Hartlepool Borough Council—and are set to be squeezed even further. How will the Minister ensure that local authorities have appropriate resources to ensure that flooding risk is mitigated?

Hartlepool has a nuclear power station on the coast; there are plans both to extend the current station’s life and to build a replacement station. Given that the power station is an important part of the nation’s energy infrastructure, providing some 2% of Britain’s electricity generation at any one time, what additional resources and attention can be given to my area to ensure that that important strategic asset is not put at risk?

My final point is about the Heugh breakwater. The Heugh has protected much of Hartlepool from the North sea for many years. It is astonishing to watch the sea there. I encourage you, Sir Edward, and other hon. Members to come and have a walk along the promenade; you will see how fierce the North sea tides are as they bash in against the breakwater, and how effective the Heugh is at absorbing the strength of the waves, ensuring that Hartlepool bay is as flat as a pane of glass.

The Heugh is owned by a private company. Over many years now, it has been suggested that it would be acceptable to allow the final third of the breakwater to go to rack and ruin and fall into the sea. But people whose families have lived in the area for generations and know it well say that the impact of that on sea defences and flooding risk would be immense. The recently built sea defences I mentioned earlier will help to mitigate that. I know the Minister may not be aware of this particular case, but will he look at the importance of the Heugh breakwater for Hartlepool and see what can be done to preserve it?

This debate is incredibly important. Making sure we can mitigate the rising risk of flooding is absolutely essential. In recent years that has been a lower priority than it perhaps should have been, in my area and others. It is important that we mitigate the risks to ensure that businesses and residents are safe as far as is possible.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): I look forward to taking my summer holidays on the seafront at Hartlepool.

Mr Iain Wright: You will be very welcome, Sir Edward.

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9.55 am

James Heappey (Wells) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak for the first time in this Chamber and to do so under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing this important debate.

It is important that we are talking about flooding in the middle of this warm and sunny July. For too long the problem has been that flooding has been discussed only when it is raining or the wind is blowing and the seas are at their most violent. From our experiences down in Somerset over the past few years we have learned that the key to protecting our countryside and towns from flooding is persistent effort rather than going from crisis to crisis.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): On planning ahead, does the hon. Gentleman agree that although there is strong support for targeting areas that are currently affected, and strong empathy for those areas, if the Government are to think strategically on climate change, they should be looking 10 to 15 years ahead, and at areas that are currently not affected but probably will be in that time span? We really need to plan for the future.

James Heappey: I agree with hon. Gentleman to a degree. I invite him to join the queue of those of us seeking Government money to protect ourselves from flooding in our areas.

Today’s debate is focused on coastal flood risk, which is an important issue. In my constituency, the town of Burnham-on-Sea is often challenged by storm surges and violent seas. While campaigning in the area over the past few years, on a number of occasions I have seen people filling sandbags when there is not a raincloud in sight. However, the real challenge—and to this end it is interesting that representatives of areas in Lincolnshire and Somerset have opened the debate—is the confluence of high tides challenging coastal defences at the same time as heavy rain inland. That has certainly happened on a number of occasions in Somerset, and the challenges it poses grow ever more acute.

There are therefore three key points that I will focus on this morning. The first is the importance of continuing to invest in and reinforce coastal flood defences. In Somerset, our efforts are currently focused on having some sort of barrier to protect the Parrett, which would defend the whole of the low-lying Somerset levels from high tides. Having just been elected to the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, I will use this opportunity to put in the Minister’s mind the idea of another barrier, further out to sea, that could lagoon the Bridgwater bay as an energy generation scheme while also providing some much-needed coastal flood protection.

My second point is about the importance of sensible planning. Although there is huge sympathy across the whole of Somerset for those who were flooded last year, there is still not yet acceptance in our county—I suspect this is the case in many other counties around the country—that tackling flooding is not simply a problem for those who live on the low ground but a responsibility of those living up on the hills as well. Upland councils across the country need to pay greater heed to the importance of attenuation, in particular, so that planning

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policy ensures that water can be held upstream as much as possible rather than simply running down on to the low ground.

On maintaining inland waterways and drains, I must ever so slightly challenge the criticism from the hon. Member for Great Grimsby of the Government’s response to the flooding in Somerset in 2014. My experience is that there has been a fantastic response to our county’s problems, with tens of millions of pounds put into the effort there. There has been great success in dredging our waterways and drains.

Melanie Onn: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, but that came after a major incident that gathered national news. That is the only reason his area received the funding. Other areas around the country are equally, if not more, at risk of flooding, and they need funding for preventive work. That is what I am asking for today.

James Heappey: The frustration locally was that the flooding came after more than a decade of under-investment in local flooding protection schemes. The dredging has been a great success. Farmers and local communities report that the water moved off the land much more quickly this winter, so the dredging had an immediate benefit. The improvement of local pumping infrastructure has also been well received, and water has been moving more quickly out to sea.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate, but I was at a meeting of the all-party group on flood prevention—I thought I should make it quorate before coming here.

Did my hon. Friend see the satellite photograph of the Bristol channel at the time of the floods 18 months ago? It showed a plume of soil going out into the sea, which gives credence to his point that we need to take an holistic view in areas such as Somerset and, no doubt, in Lincolnshire too. That needs to be about dealing with not only the problem in rivers such as the Parrett, but land use in the hills surrounding areas such as the Somerset levels. When maize and other crops are planted in the wrong place, Somerset ends up in the Bristol channel.

James Heappey: I absolutely agree: we cannot tackle flooding simply by dredging a river, building an attenuation pond or building better flood defences—taking a dynamic, holistic approach to managing the whole area is key. Within that, it is important to recognise what land is used for, and farmers are becoming increasingly sensitive to the impact of what they plant on their land and its ability to hold water.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I am pleased the hon. Gentleman responded in the way he did to the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon); he is absolutely right.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Environment Agency did offer the local authority money for dredging—I am not sure of the figure, but I think it was about £7 million—but the local authority rejected it?

James Heappey: I have a suspicion that the hon. Gentleman may be better informed about that than me, and it is not within my expertise to comment on it. However, it would be churlish not to recognise that in

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the wake of the flooding in 2014, there was fantastic investment, which has put right the lack of investment that we saw—for whatever reason—over the previous decades. That investment has been most welcome.

The key point I would make is that the response to the flooding in Somerset, where there was a confluence of high tides and heavy rain inland, allied with out-of-date flood protection infrastructure and land use that was perhaps unwise, saw the emergence of the Somerset Rivers Authority. At the authority’s heart is the belief that the solution was a locally sensitive, dynamic organisation that would tackle the causes of flooding across the entire catchment area. That is welcome, although I should report to the Minister that there are, I am afraid, still some conflicts between the community and conservationists. However, I am sure he will agree that, when push comes to shove, the community and local business must win out on this issue.

Finally, I have a request for the Minister. His Department has been looking at enduring options for funding the Somerset Rivers Authority. Will he update us on what point those options have reached and whether the Department is close to being able to offer Somerset County Council its recommendations on how the authority should be funded in the future?

It is vital that we talk about flooding year round, not just when it rains or when the seas are high.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. Will the hon. Gentleman draw his remarks to a close?

James Heappey: Of course, Sir Edward.

The impact of flooding on the Somerset economy, and particularly tourism, has been profound. The people of Somerset have been encouraged by all that has been done to help us over the last few years, but the Minister’s commitment to provide future help would be most welcome.

10.5 am

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am pleased to take part in this important debate, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing it.

Like other Members, I think it is important that the Government put in place measures to deal with coastal flooding and the coastal erosion it causes, not just when they happen, but beforehand, to try to mitigate their impact. Although weathering, the denudation of the land, coastal erosion and floods, which are a consequence of the confluence of storms, tidal surges and heavy rain, are very much natural phenomena, they have been accentuated and accelerated by climate change, which is the result of man’s inhumanity to the environment.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): This is an interesting debate, but the emphasis has been on the Government doing x, y and z. Surely, there is a role for other agencies—a cocktail of agencies—to work together in partnership to deal with these issues.

Ms Ritchie: I do not disagree, but the Government need to set the priorities and the strategic policy. Other agencies, along with local communities and councils,

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need to spell out their particular requirements so that we can determine the best interests of the wider public and what planning policy should be, and so that we can ensure that we protect our environment and our local economy.

In the last Parliament, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, which I was a member of, dealt with flooding. The hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who may have been the Minister then, talked to us about the issue, and we asked the Government to assess the possibility of a transition to a total expenditure classification for flood and coastal risk management to allow funding to be targeted at local priorities. We also looked at the Flood Re insurance scheme. Obviously, those issues have to be developed, and I look forward, as an incoming member of the Committee in this Parliament, to discussing any outstanding issues and to giving the Government a plan they might wish to consider, notwithstanding what may be in tomorrow’s Budget.

The challenges of climate change are great, with coastal flooding one of the most pressing we face. The marked increase in storms and tidal surges is leading to coastal flooding, at a cost to residents, businesses and farmers. Rising sea levels are a particular issue in my constituency, as climate change leads to coastal surges and rising tide levels in the Irish sea. Government agencies have undoubtedly focused their efforts on erosion in areas close to roads, and they have carried out work, but the problem extends far beyond that. We are experiencing serious, irreversible environmental damage along our coastline. That is having not only a long-term impact, but an immediate impact on businesses, residents and farmers. They may find that they have less land this year than they did two or three years ago and that sewer pipes have been exposed on the coastline. A premier links golf course in my constituency cannot get planning permission at the moment; those concerned are looking for rock armour to protect it from the impact of climate change and the effects of coastal flooding and erosion. There is a need for a sensible path forward, to enable the economy to grow and the environment to be protected, and so that we do not lose funding as a consequence.

In my experience Departments will go a certain distance, but then they and the Crown Estate commissioners invoke the Bateman formula, which says that Departments are each individually responsible for the land in their own territory. As a consequence, there is no joined-up thinking on the matter, whether in central Government or the devolved regions, so—notwithstanding budgetary issues for the Government and the devolved region’s responsibilities—they need to come together at a climate summit to tackle this important issue.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby has already suggested a Government climate change risk assessment and national adaptation plan, and that is another collaborative approach. That is needed to prepare the UK for the impact of global warning. It is urgently required to safeguard the environment, to protect the economy, individuals, families and farming and rural communities, and to make provision for financial growth and job creation.

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I urge the Minister to spell out directly the direction of future Government action with the devolved regions, and to explain how we will move along the path of climate change mitigation and protection of our local natural environment.

10.11 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, Sir Edward. I thank the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for bringing the matter to the Chamber. The presence of so many hon. Members whose constituencies have requirements relevant to the debate shows its importance for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is nice to see the shadow Minister the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) in his place; we always look forward to his speeches. I especially welcome the Minister and look forward to hearing how he will respond to our requests.

There will not be many in this place who have not heard me rave about the unrivalled beauty of my constituency, Strangford. Those who have been there will agree with me about it, and will want to return to visit it again. It is truly a gem in the crown of Northern Ireland. It has perhaps—no, not perhaps—the most beautiful, majestic and breathtaking landscapes and shorelines in the entire United Kingdom. That is a fact, and it is a pleasure to put it on record. However, to quote a superhero film that my boys love,

“With great power comes great responsibility”,

and the power of the sea off the Irish coast has brought coastal erosion, which has a great impact on homes and businesses along the coastline of Strangford. For that reason I am very thankful to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby for bringing the issue to the attention of hon. Members.

I want to outline the effect of coastal erosion in my constituency and to conclude by asking the Minister about the strategic response. The problem has risen to a head with massive storms and tides. I and some concerned councillors felt we had to hold a public meeting, at the community house in Ballyhalbert, a beautiful seaside village on the Ards peninsula. I highlighted the fact that it is beyond time for a strategic plan on coastal erosion and better co-ordination between Departments. The matter is devolved to Northern Ireland, but we have tried to consider a strategic response and a way to co-ordinate the response between the regions, as well as to co-operate with Europe. Also taking part in the meeting were Diane Dodds MEP, Michelle McIlveen MLA and Councillors Adair and Edmund, along with the chief executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council, Stephen Reid. All of them have been seeking action on the issue, as have I and the many constituents who took the time to attend the meeting on a wet, windy and inhospitable day. It was abundantly clear that the public need action. It is not too often that there is such co-operation between bodies in Northern Ireland, but it was good to see it, and it highlights how essential the issue is.

Hon. Members may not know the areas on which I am focusing, but it is the same general picture for all UK coastal areas. The storm of the winter before last meant extra costs of some £800,000 for the Department for Regional Development, or Transport NI as it is now

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called. The road replacement at Whitechurch Road in Ballywalter cost £280,000; the damage to the Shore Road in Ballyhalbert cost £36,000; Roddens Road cost £86,000; and road repairs were needed at Portaferry Road, Ards, Greyabbey and Kircubbin. The total was in excess of £800,000. What was a once-in-100-years flood became a once-in-20-years or once-in-18-years flood. The frequency then came down to once in three years; flooding now seems to happen with shocking regularity, and the need for money for repairs is building up.

Frustration reigns—and all hon. Members who have spoken have alluded to that. Transport NI, the Department of the Environment, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, the Rivers Agency or the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development cannot or will not accept responsibility for damage to property or take action to prevent flooding. At the Saltwater Brig in Kircubbin in my constituency, high tides led to damage to many houses and business properties; and insurance claims for that small area were in excess of £100,000. The council had a small role to play, and had a small sum of money that it could give to those who made contact immediately. It was a small sum in relation to some of the insurance claims, but it gave people £1,000, which at least enabled them to find alternative accommodation at short notice.

It is now obvious that someone needs to take control. After discussions with the chief executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council, it is intended that the council will be the conduit to pull together all Departments and to address what is needed and what the council priorities should be. That is one of the things that we set about doing. No longer will we be using sticking plasters, or putting a finger in the dyke. As flooding caused by coastal erosion becomes regular and commonplace, we need longer term action, as otherwise flooding will have an impact on the life of the community, on the accessibility of the road network, and the potential of tourism to deliver more jobs and boost the economy; it would be a tragedy if coastal erosion were to hold that back.

I would like the Minister to talk about the role of Europe. I believe it has a strong role to play, and that is why we invited a Member of the European Parliament as well as councillors and a Member of the Legislative Assembly to the meeting that we held. We need a strategic response. The newly installed chief executive of Ards and North Down Borough Council has given a commitment to initiate a study on the impact of coastal erosion, and to prepare. Prevention is the correct policy; that will address the massive expenditure that has resulted from high tides and storms. That strategy must be implemented UK-wide with additional funding from and the co-operation of Europe. I hope that that will be the outcome of today’s debate—that it will be a look at how we can do things better.

Many residents have conveyed their concerns to me, and given that my constituency is bounded by the Irish sea and Strangford lough—it has the longest coastline in Northern Ireland, taking in almost three quarters of my constituency—that is no surprise. We need to highlight the seriousness of the situation, given the severe weather conditions that often hit our coastlines, and then take action to preserve our beautiful coastline and people’s homes, livelihoods and lives. We are attempting to take action locally, but today’s debate and the speeches from all parties and regions of the United Kingdom show

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that we need funds to enable us to address the issue adequately. We need a UK-wide strategy on coastal erosion, involving all regions, DEFRA, DARD and the European Union. Europe has a vital role to play and must be part of the solution.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): I call Liz Saville Roberts. There is still another speaker after you, so it would be good if you could try to finish by roughly 10.20 am.

10.18 am

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Thank you very much, Sir Edward, for calling me to speak. I will be brief.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place. I have listened with great interest to the previous contributions. This is the first time that I have spoken in Westminster Hall, and it is a delight to do so.

A number of communities, large and small, in my constituency have been contacted as part of the consultation on the regional shoreline management plan and alerted to potential flooding threats. I understand that there are 787 residential properties and 710 non-residential properties at high risk of flooding in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, and it is mainly a coastal threat. It should be noted that the third best beach bar in the world, Ty Coch at Porthdinllaen, is named by its owners, the National Trust, as a potential loss in the next 50 years; the bar is possibly a poster boy for the dangers of global warming. Also, if anyone is enthusiastic about golf, I recommend that they visit Porthdinllaen, which is one of the most beautiful places in my region.

I shall refer to one particular community, Fairbourne, on Cardigan bay. Residents have recently established a group, Fairbourne Facing Change, and have worked alongside the local authority, Cyngor Gwynedd, in response to concerns arising from sensationalist media reports in 2014 about the potential impact of combined coastal and river flooding. The local authority has committed to protecting the community for the next 40 years, but the saleability of properties remains a challenge.

I wish to raise three specific issues. First, I draw Members’ attention to an innovative buy and leaseback feasibility study in relation to the village of Fairbourne, which will be reported back to the National Assembly of Wales.

Secondly, there are issues related to the saleability of properties. Mortgage providers appear to be committed to a set period of residual life before being prepared to lend against a property. If it is perceived that a house has a residual life of, say, less than 60 years—that is not a formally identified figure, but it seems to be a working number—the property is assessed as having nil value. It would be beneficial if mortgage lenders were prepared to accommodate shorter periods when there is a commitment to protect communities, and if a Government body were to provide a guaranteed value for a period of years to be realised at the end of a mortgage. Of course, that idea will be considered in the feasibility study that I mentioned.

Thirdly, and importantly for my constituency, I remind Members of the significance of the work that Network Rail does locally. I imagine that it does similar work in

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other communities as well. In our case, the work relates to the Cambrian coast railway line. It should be noted that maintaining the line from Machynlleth to Pwllheli serves both as a transport function and effectively as a sea barrier against extreme weather. We saw that 18 months ago in Barmouth, when the railway line effectively protected the town from flooding. It is essential that the Cambrian coast railway line is safeguarded for the future, for both those reasons.

It is important to mitigate the effects of flooding and to consider and address the wider implications of flooding for people’s lives. I reiterate what was said earlier about the need for co-ordinated action between the devolved nations and the Government here in Westminster.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Thank you for your brevity.

10.22 am

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): Thank you so much, Sir Edward, for just squeezing me in at the end.

I am delighted to be at this debate, which is so pertinent for Somerset, where I come from. I thank the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for her pertinent points about what is going on in Wales. I will be very brief.

Yes, we had a crisis because of the floods last year—the worst flooding in our area for 200 years—but because of the joint effort of everybody working together, we got over that crisis, and I welcome the support that we received from the Government. The Burrowbridge wall is just unbelievable to drive past—it is a huge flood protection wall that has been put in place.

I will put in a bid for the Somerset Rivers Authority. There is debate going on this very week back in my constituency about how that authority will be run, how people will work together to provide flood protection in future, and how that flood protection will be funded. That is essential for what we call the wider catchment work, which many Members have referred to. That is attenuation work, which means having ponds and the right crops and trees up in the hills to stop the water rushing off the ground so fast. It also means looking out for what happens in the towns, so that when we have heavy rain all the water does not suddenly rush off the ground to the Somerset levels and out to sea, crossing our coastal area, where the tide is coming up at the same time. I ask the Minister to look carefully at what the authority will bring him, and I urge the Government to continue to support the funding of protection on the Somerset levels, particularly the Somerset Rivers Authority project, because it will be a model for many other areas.

10.24 am

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): This is my first time speaking in Westminster Hall, too, and I do so on a pertinent issue. I congratulate the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) on securing the debate. I represent a coastal community that is surrounded on three sides by the sea, so this issue is particularly close to my heart.

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Of course, coastal flooding is a particular problem in England, with 5 million properties in England potentially being affected by it, and we have heard from hon. Members about some of the extreme weather that has impacted on their constituencies.

I will pick up on what hon. Members from Northern Ireland, including the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), have said about the devolved nations. I will talk about where we can learn from one another, which is quite important. Similarly, one hon. Member from Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), talked about Europe.

Let me talk for a minute about Scotland, where the situation is a little bit different from the situation elsewhere. Our topography is slightly different, but that is not to say that we have not been affected by the devastating impact of changes in the climate, extreme weather and flooding.

The environment is largely a devolved matter in Scotland, and flood risk management has been a priority for the Scottish Government, who have invested quite heavily in flood defences and maintained and protected funding for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. We have also looked at developing a national picture of flood risk across Scotland, which will help us with investment efforts in the future.

The subject of my first question was raised by the hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers). Will the Minister give us a slight insight into tomorrow’s Budget? I ask because we are worried about cuts to the budget for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, especially at this time. The UK’s own climate change risk assessment of 2012 said that one of the biggest challenges in the UK will be flooding and water shortage. So can the Minister tell us why there is a possibility of DEFRA’s budget being cut, and what impact such a cut might have on the Scottish Government?

Richard Benyon: May I offer the hon. Gentleman some comfort, albeit without having any knowledge of what is happening to the DEFRA budget? At times of great austerity, DEFRA managed to protect the flood funding budget; in fact, it spent more on flooding than any Government had in any previous year.

Stephen Gethins: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point, and I am glad that the situation reflected what was going on north of the border; I know that he had a good working relationship with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, Richard Lochhead. We need to talk about this issue, to find out how we can learn from one another across these islands as we face the challenges of climate change.

The hon. Member for South Down said that we were facing a situation arising from “man’s inhumanity to the environment”. We are seeing the devastating impact that that is having on communities across these islands, and further afield. That is why we are interested in looking at climate justice, and considering not only adaptation to climate change but mitigation of it. We also need to consider how climate change impacts on people beyond these shores.

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We are seeing the increased impact of climate change. We have taken action in Scotland through our national coastal change assessment and our national picture of flood risk. I ask the Minister what he can he learn from us and what we can learn from him. I urge that the issue is treated as a priority, because it is a priority for communities across these islands. We must continue to invest in flood defences.

10.28 am

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Sir Edward, it is always a great pleasure to speak in any debate chaired by you, given your wise counsel, but today I specifically thank my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), not only for raising a very important subject but for doing so with great aplomb and the sort of attention to detail that I imagine will endear her to her constituents for many years to come.

I am keen to get off to the right start with the new Minister, so I begin by saying that it is really good that there is a Government Department that takes coastal defence risk seriously. I might think that it is a shame that that Department is the Ministry of Defence and not the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and as a former distinguished Chair of the Defence Committee the Minister might feel that that is a point of welcome contact between us and that we can work from there.

The Defence Estates special focus investigation on flood implications for MOD locations set out plans to abandon the Hythe and Lydd ranges, valued at £200 million, which are next to the flood-prone Romney marshes on the south coast. A report released under freedom of information regulations states:

“The MOD estate will be exposed to greater risk as a consequence of climate change…Many sites, both inland and coastal, are vulnerable to flooding...Climate change and sea level rise means that defending coastlines is becoming more costly and technically difficult. The increasing cost of maintenance means that existing defences may be abandoned in areas with low population or fewer tangible assets.”

The Hythe and Lydd ranges, known as DTE SE—defence training estate south-east—form

“the principal area for operational training. The range complexes comprise the most extensive collection of urban training facilities in Europe and extremely varied terrain. This makes the region unique in its training provision.”

Paragraph 6.9 of the report shows that the Ministry has examined the possibility of locating the training facility elsewhere, but that

“capital costs and compulsory purchase issues aside, this size of space cannot be replicated in another part of the UK, simply because an area the size required to translocate these facilities…is not available.”

Sea level rises and the increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather in the UK show that climate change is an issue not just of national wellbeing but of national and global security. The threat that climate change poses to our ability to live well is growing in many parts of the UK, particularly on our coasts. The risk has risen because of human activity, but until recently people acted in ignorance, and therefore innocence, of the effects of their action on future generations. However, our failure to act today, with the full knowledge of the cost of our inaction, is, in the words of the Pope, “a sin against ourselves”, a sin against the world.

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That other fine Catholic in another place, Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, has pointed out that it is unnatural for us to act like ostriches, but it is also irresponsible and immoral. The committee’s first statutory report to Parliament on the Government’s progress in preparing the UK for the impacts of climate change was published last week. It shows that the Government have taken the ostrich approach.

I will get to the committee’s findings in a moment, but first I want to raise two points that appear to me to show the Government’s disregard for their responsibility to protect our economy and wellbeing from the impacts of climate change. First, the Government were asked to put up a Minister to speak at the launch of the committee’s two progress reports. They chose not to. Secondly, no Minister currently has responsibility for climate change adaptation. The role has been handed to a part-time Lord and DEFRA “spokesperson”, whatever that means. It certainly does not mean a Minister of the Crown.

The Conservative-led coalition removed climate change adaptation from DEFRA’s priorities, and this Government have removed ministerial oversight. That is serious. Tens of thousands of homes, critical energy and transport infrastructure and many towns and cities in England are located on the coastal floodplain. The Government’s failure to take adaptation seriously is an insult to all of them.

We know that our efforts to reduce flood risk in the past have saved the lives of those who live on the coastal floodplain, as well as billions of pounds potential damage. No one died as a direct result of the 2013 tidal surge event, whereas the tidal surge of a similar magnitude in 1953 killed 307 people. Improved flood defence structures and reliable early warning systems protected hundreds of thousands of homes and ensured that 18,000 people were evacuated. However, many coastal communities were balancing on a knife edge during the 2013-14 winter floods. The fact is that defences protecting thousands of homes and critical infrastructure, not to mention much of the city of Hull, almost failed.

The Committee on Climate Change addressed a couple of simple questions on climate change adaptation. First, is there a plan? The answer that the committee gave was yes, but that it is inadequate. Secondly, are actions taking place? The answer was yes, but they are not time-bound and most are not being measured. Thirdly, are those actions reducing the risk of failure of our critical infrastructure and loss of life? Answer: no. That is the view of the Government’s independent Committee on Climate Change, set up to advise the Government on these matters.

Over the past four years there has been under-investment in flood and coastal risk management. I am sorry that the former Minister, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), is no longer in his place, because I want to rebut his words specifically. He said that there had been an increase in investment under the last Government. There was not. Over the past four years there has been under-investment totalling more than £200 million. The graphs are there for all to see in the report by the Committee on Climate Change. I counsel the Minister to have a look at those graphs; the graphs and the bar charts showing what was spent are all there.

The committee states:

“Due to this underinvestment, expected annual flood damage will be higher now than it was in 2010.”

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That is a direct quote from the Committee on Climate Change. Against that evidence, can the Minister please justify his insistence and that of ministerial colleagues that flood risk has been reduced over the past five years? He will know that the only way in which that claim can in any way be substantiated is through the fact that those at low risk and very low risk of flood damage have been taken out of the equation, but those at significant, high or very high risk of flooding have seen that risk increase.

Only 77 local planning authorities out of 340—23%—have local flood risk plans. Of the 20 local authorities in England that have the highest number of households at risk from river or coastal flooding, 17 do not have adopted plans in place under the national planning policy framework. What is the Minister doing to ensure that all local planning authorities have those plans in place?

The Committee on Climate Change has identified that the Government have no plan to reduce flood risk to properties already protected by coastal defences. That means that as sea levels rise because of climate change, the chance that those defences will be overtopped or fail is increasing. However, the Government are focusing only on improved emergency evacuation planning. Why have the Government not informed coastal communities that they should be prepared for increasingly frequent evacuations as flood risk increases because of climate change?

Since 2001, 27% of floodplain development—that equates to 68,000 new homes—has been in areas with a one in 100 or greater annual chance of flooding, and about 23,000 new homes have been built in areas with a high likelihood of flooding; that is a one in 30 or greater annual chance of flooding even where flood defences are in place. Can the Minister explain why all the Government’s planning assumes that that development is not taking place? That is their own stated assumption behind their figures.

Ports handle 95% of the country’s imports and exports by volume. Half of the UK’s port capacity is located on the east coast, where the risk of damage from a tidal surge is greatest. However, it is not clear what improvements in flood protection have been made, or are planned to be made, to Britain’s ports. Some ports, having participated in the first round of reporting under the compulsory adaptation reporting power, have decided not to provide an update as part of round 2. Will the Minister confirm which ports have not reported in round 2, but did report in the first round?

Why was the risk of coastal erosion not mentioned in the Planning Inspectorate’s assessment of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station? Coastal defences can fail, as we saw during the 2013-14 winter storms at Dawlish, which has been mentioned in the debate. Projections suggest that the length of the rail network exposed to coastal erosion will increase from 11 km to 38 km by 2050 and to 62 km by 2100. What are the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Transport doing to address that?

When will the Government release the findings of the national resilience review that was launched in response to the 2013-14 floods? Only two of the six wetland priority habitat types currently meet the 90% target for

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being in a favourable or recovering condition. The Minister will know that, as well as being extremely important for wildlife, those habitats play an important role in buffering sea defences from waves and storm surges. Only 37% of floodplain and coastal marsh is in favourable or recovering condition, and there is currently no process for reporting progress against the Government’s target. That should be a priority for DEFRA from the point of view not only of flood risk, but of habitats and the wider environment. Does the Minister expect to meet his 2020 targets in those areas?

It is the duty of Government to provide strong leadership and the investment that is required to ensure that all parts of the country and all sectors of the economy adapt effectively to climate change. Coastal flooding is not a stand-alone risk; combined with fluvial and surface water flood risk, the effect can be devastating. The Government have not risen to the challenge of matching the risk that we face.

10.40 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rory Stewart): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I begin by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn) for securing this important debate. Flooding is one of the biggest challenges that the nation faces, and it is of immense importance, particularly in the hon. Lady’s constituency.

Coastal flooding on the east coast is particularly extreme. Hon. Members from all over the country have made moving speeches, but it is difficult to think of any communities that face a more extraordinary collection of challenges than those on the Humber. Events that normally affect coastal flooding, such as low pressure zones and the height of the tides—this year, tides are at an 18-year high—combine with the geography of the east coast of England and the very low-lying land to make the Humber particularly vulnerable. It is good that hon. Members have focused on that problem.

In his good speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) made an analogy with the tidal surge of 1953 and pointed out that the 2013 coastal surge in the Humber was 1.93 metres higher. Although that is true, the coastal surge in 1953 resulted in the flooding of 24,000 properties and the death of more than 300 people; in contrast, in 2013, despite the fact that the surge was much higher, only 2,800 houses were flooded, no lives were lost and—perhaps most importantly for the Government—156,000 properties were protected on the Humber.

The tone of the debate has been, understandably, concerned and occasionally negative, but it is worth bearing in mind the fact that the Environment Agency and the Flood Forecasting Centre have made huge progress in making us safer against flooding. The basic arguments made by right hon. and hon. Members can be divided into three categories: the value of that which we protect from floods, the threat posed by the floods and our response to those floods. Our response includes advance prevention; capital and investment and maintenance to ensure that flood defences are in place; recovery measures; and, underlying everything—and as raised by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby—forecasting.

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In the short time available, I will try to touch on all those issues. Powerful arguments have been made about the economic value of that which we protect from flooding. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes focused on the unique industrial base around his constituency, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) drew attention to power generation in his. More fundamental than the economic importance of these areas, however, is the protection of human lives. As the Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border, I have, like everyone in this room, seen the impact of floods, and it is extraordinary to experience something that feels so biblical. I have seen families staring in disbelief at their possessions floating on the floodwater. I have witnessed the terror, the risk to people’s lives, and the complete upset of the ordinary relationship between land and water that flooding causes. We have an obligation, in a time of climate change, to make sure that that does not persist.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) described the £800,000 of damage caused by flooding to transport infrastructure in Northern Ireland, which illustrates the problems that flooding can cause in the absence of proper prevention. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) described the damage done in their constituencies by uncontained flooding. Their contributions bring us to the central question of flood response, which can be broken down into prediction, prevention, emergency response and recovery.

I am delighted to welcome to Westminster Hall the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), who is following in the footsteps of his distinguished predecessor. He and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd raised some constitutional issues. As both hon. Members are aware, we are discussing a fully devolved issue, but one on which we can learn from each other. One of the great advantages of devolution has been the opportunity to look at each other’s approaches, particularly for my Department. The environment was one of the earliest things to be devolved, so we have been able to learn from Wales on recycling and from Zero Waste Scotland. I hope that we can learn from each other when it comes to flood insurance schemes, and there are certainly things that we can learn from Scotland on planning.

The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) raised a serious question about strategic thought. Governments are not always as good at strategic thought as they could be, but I am more reassured about the approach to flooding than I am about other aspects of government. The Environment Agency has a 100-year plan for shoreline management, which is a much more expansive and long-term form of planning than we are accustomed to.

Jim Shannon: In my contribution, I indicated the need to bring Government bodies together. In particular, we need to reach outside local government, regional government and Westminster towards Europe. Has the Minister given any thought to how we can best do that? In meetings in my constituency, we have brought all those people together. There is a European aspect to the long-term strategic response, so we need to involve Europe. Will the Minister give us some thoughts on that?

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Rory Stewart: I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and talk about his experience in his constituency. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby talked about detriment to fishermen, and European funds have contributed £400,000 to repairing the damage to fishing equipment that has been caused by extreme flooding events. There are many more ways in which Europe can participate, and I would be interested to hear about the hon. Gentleman’s experience.

Partnership is at the core of everything that we are trying to do. We are finding ways to bring together the excellent work of the Environment Agency, the genuine concerns of local authorities, the knowledge of people such as farmers—my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes has touched on that—and the private sector. Port authorities are highly profitable private industries, which have an obligation to invest in their own capital infrastructure.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): Does the Minister agree that in areas such as mine, where the railway line at Rufford is at risk from flooding, Network Rail should contribute financially to the internal drainage board, which is on the table, and not leave the matter in the hands of farmers and rate payers?

Rory Stewart: That is an interesting proposal. I do not want to be bounced into looking at something that I have not thought about, but the basic principle behind my hon. Friend’s suggestion is correct. One would want all those stakeholders to contribute to IDBs. I would be interested to see whether that would work for Network Rail, and I would be happy to sit down with my hon. Friend and talk about that in more detail.

At the heart of the contributions by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby and the shadow Minister was the question of resources. The discussion is becoming a slightly tedious one in which statistics are played back and forth. As the shadow Minister will be aware, because he has heard us say it again and again, we have invested more resources in flooding, in cash terms and in real terms, than the previous Labour Government did during their last five years.

Ms Ritchie: This has been an interesting debate, but there have been suggestions that flood defence spending is at least £500 million below what is needed to keep pace with increased floods and rising sea levels. How do the Minister and his Department intend to address that, notwithstanding tomorrow’s Budget and its implications?

Rory Stewart: What exactly does the hon. Lady mean? Does she mean that there should be a particular target such as a once-in-100-years, a once-in-75-years or a once-in-200-years flood risk? How exactly would she weigh up expenditure on two or three isolated houses against other forms of expenditure? I ask because the Environment Agency runs extremely complex and serious models to try to get the right relationship between Government spending, public spending and the risk on the ground. Our models show that we have improved the level of flood protection by about 5%, rather than just keeping up with it, so I am interested in the source of her statistic. If she would like to sit down with me, I would be happy to discuss it in more detail.

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Barry Gardiner: I will try to be brief, but I want to enlighten the Minister on the question of funding. Simply, the projections are based on the peak year of 2010, after which there was an initial cut of some £200 million in the following two years. The Government then amended that figure for restoration, which was emergency funding. The bar charts and graphs produced by the Committee on Climate Change show that that funding bumped the figures above the original projected gain line. The Environment Agency has put in two new lines below that level, but those lines are deemed to be “best possible” and “rather optimistic” scenarios by the Committee on Climate Change. I recommend that the Minister looks at the reports and graphs by the Committee on Climate Change because they explain the situation in some detail and show exactly what the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) said.

Rory Stewart: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I looked at the reports by the Committee on Climate Change because he, or somebody else, tried to submit an urgent question. I reassure him that I am the responsible person in the Department because I was being prepared for that urgent question on the climate adaptation report.

The central issue for this debate is not simply whether we define the emergency funding as part of the Government spend over the past five years; it is, at least from my point of view, that the six-year commitment in Government spending has allowed us to do much smarter long-term planning. The Environment Agency has done that well, and we were able to make considerable savings. It is a real model. Whoever is in government next—including the shadow Minister, if he were to take over—the most important thing is ensuring that the Treasury makes such long-term settlements, which have completely transformed the way we do our capital planning.

Stephen Gethins: I thank the Minister for his reflections on where we can learn from each other across these islands. Does he see an opportunity for greater European co-operation in his long-term planning? The importance of the European Union was raised earlier by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Is this an area where we should be deepening our co-operation with the European Union, and is that part of his planning for the future?

Rory Stewart: In theory, I am very comfortable with that suggestion; in practice, a great deal of this is extremely local. There are four fundamental types of flooding in Britain, and a lot of that flooding is governed by specific weather patterns and geography. Much of the mitigation is governed by local knowledge, but of course I would be interested if the hon. Gentleman has ideas that he would like to share, particularly from Europe.

In the limited time available, I will touch on the four main issues raised by hon. and right hon. Members today. Those issues seem to fall into the categories of new technical solutions, the prioritisation of flood spending, emergency response and recovery. On new technical solutions, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby raised the question of dredging, particularly in relation to Freshney. My hon. Friends the Members for Wells and for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) talked about upland

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attenuation. My hon. Friend the Member for Wells also raised the issue of barrages, and the hon. Member for Hartlepool talked about the Heugh breakwater.

Different technical solutions have been proposed. I am happy if hon. Members want to take up those proposals and see why the Environment Agency is pursuing other technical solutions and has different views on the breakwater at Heugh, for example. I assure the hon. Member for Great Grimsby that we will look again at Freshney in this financial year, and she will of course be aware that dredging is not a solution in all cases and can lead to higher and quicker movements of water downstream. Upland attenuation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wells will be aware, can help in limited areas but is not suitable for large catchment areas and extreme flooding events.

Prioritisation is partly a question of perception. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes, for example, raised the concerns of farmers in Barrow. We have committed £4.6 million towards the £6 million scheme that will directly address the needs of the farmers of Barrow. The hon. Member for Hartlepool mentioned the power plant. Again, nobody doubts the importance of that power plant but, as he is aware, it is on relatively high ground. We calculate that, at the moment, there is a one-in-1,000 risk for that power plant, so we do not consider it a priority. If he has different information, he should by all means come to us.

The shadow Minister mentioned the Hythe and Lydd ranges, where I have been on built-up-area exercises. He made an important point, and the Ministry of Defence can be expected to contribute. I am happy to have that discussion again with the MOD. On the general question of the prioritisation of coastal flood erosion over other forms of flooding, I can reassure hon. Members that 43% of the £23 billion that we have committed to flooding is directly directed towards coastal flooding.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby talked about emergency response, which is the third conceptual issue. We have an increasingly sophisticated operation through the gold commands, the Environment Agency emergency room and Cobra. I take on board the shadow Minister’s point about local authority plans, which I am happy to follow up. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby also raised the issue of recovery, on which there is more we can do. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd talked about buying. We have chosen the Flood Re insurance scheme model, but there has been some examination on the east coast of exactly those kinds of models, which I am happy to discuss in more detail.

The final conceptual issue is prediction, which reminds us how flooding is so incredibly technical. North Lincolnshire Council asked why we are less good at predicting surface water floods than coastal floods, river floods and groundwater floods. The answer, of course, relates to the source of those floods. North Lincolnshire Council needs to understand that, if we are lucky, we can get four or five days’ notice of a coastal flood because such flooding is governed by the height of the tides, by a low pressure system and by the speed of the wind. We can see the height of the water in a river, and we can see groundwater. Surface water flooding, particularly at the moment, is caused by summer thunderstorms. The Met Office finds surface water much more difficult to address because—to make an analogy—although we can see that bubbles will raise the top of a

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boiling pot, we cannot tell where those bubbles are going to be. However, we plan to invest some £96 million in a new supercomputer that will increase sixteenfold our ability to do the kind of projections, and provide the kind of support, that are needed.

Over the next six years, we have a £2.3 billion programme covering more than 1,500 projects, and we aim further to reduce the risk to at least 300,000 households. That investment—the shadow Minister is now bored with these statistics—will help to avoid more than £30 billion of economic damage and will help economic development and growth. We estimate that every £1 invested in that way brings us at least £9 of economic benefit. That is why I agree with everyone who has spoken. I therefore pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, but I also pay tribute to everyone else for their service to their constituencies and their understanding of local needs. There is almost nothing in government that is more important than focusing on preventing floods and protecting communities against such risks. Nothing else can be as devastating to communities, and there is nothing else in which I am as proud to participate as a Minister.

10.59 am

Melanie Onn: I thank the Minister for taking our concerns so seriously. It is clear from today’s attendance that this is a national issue. We have had representations from the north, south, east and west, from the islands and from the devolved nations.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): I remind Members that at the conclusion of the next debate, at 11.30 am, the House will observe a minute’s silence to mark the 10th anniversary of the events of 7 July 2005. The silence will begin at the point at which the next debate is to end, so I would be grateful for Members’ co-operation in ensuring that we are able to commemorate those events appropriately.

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Nuclear Warheads (Transportation)

11 am

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of transportation of nuclear warheads.

I thank the Minister for being here, and I hope that she can answer some of my questions about the transportation of nuclear warheads. It may come as a shock to many, but nuclear weapons are regularly driven past the homes of millions of people as they snake their way across Britain. Nuclear warheads were transported through my constituency at least three times in the last 18 months: in January and July 2014, and in January 2015. They were moved in large convoys of more than 20 vehicles on the M74 through Rutherglen and across the centre of the city of Glasgow.

On each occasion, they were travelling around midnight. Driving in the dark involves particular risks; the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has pointed out that drivers are far more likely to fall asleep at the wheel at night. Although only a quarter of all journeys take place between 7 pm and 8 am, 40% of all injuries sustained in accidents occur during this time period.

For several years, the convoys avoided the centre of Glasgow and skirted around the city. Now that restriction has been lifted, and they travel openly on the M74 and M8 through the heart of Scotland’s largest city. Until 2005, nuclear convoys took their time on the long journey from Berkshire to Coulport. Each trip took three days, with two overnight stops. Now the convoys’ journey is continuous, with a crew change halfway and no overnight stops. That means longer stretches on the road, driving at night, driving through urban areas and driving for longer, which all make the dangers of an accident even greater than in the past.

I am aware that the Ministry of Defence will be able to cite numerous safety procedures that are adhered to. I am also aware that the MOD carries out regular safety exercises and will consider its emergency plans to be robustly tested. But accidents can and do happen. In January 1987, in the county of Wiltshire, two nuclear warhead carriers, each transporting two nuclear warheads, came off the road after sliding on ice. One of the carriers suffered damage after rolling on its side. Fortunately, the containerised weapons were not damaged in the incident, but it took 18 hours to recover the damaged vehicle.

The MOD has failed to learn lessons from that accident. It continues to move nuclear weapons in the middle of winter, in icy conditions. At 11 pm on 11 January this year, a convoy drove past a sign on the M74 at Hamilton that said “Winter weather, take care”. It then went through my constituency, across Glasgow and over the Erskine bridge, 45 metres above the River Clyde.

Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP): Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no better example of the MOD’s blatant disregard for public safety in transporting nuclear warheads than when that convoy crossed the Erskine bridge in my constituency? The Erskine bridge, high above the Clyde, had been subjected to gusts of nearly 100 mph, and

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high-sided vehicles had been advised not to use the bridge. I cannot imagine a more ridiculous decision, made solely for convenience rather than safety. It is a completely wrong-headed approach to dealing with such a cargo.

Margaret Ferrier: I concur with my hon. Friend. The convoy proceeded despite the high wind warnings flashing on approaches to the bridge. For several days the Met Office had been issuing warnings across the country of high winds or snow. It would not have been possible for the convoy to complete its journey that week without driving at some point through an area where there had been an extreme weather warning.

In addition to the accident in Wiltshire, there have been other accidents: warhead transporters have crashed into each other, a nuclear lorry has been involved in a fatal head-on collision and a convoy has been stranded for hours following a major breakdown. In August 2014, the Sunday Heraldnewspaper reported that more than 70 safety lapses had occurred on nuclear convoys in the five-and-a-half-year period ending in December 2012. Like many others, I was shocked to learn that such safety incidents have occurred more than once a month on average. In 2012 alone, 23 incidents happened, raising fears that the safety of nuclear convoys might be deteriorating.

In 2005, the same newspaper also revealed an internal MOD report warning that nuclear warheads could accidentally explode if involved in a major crash, because a bomb’s key safety feature could be disabled, leading to what the MOD terms an “inadvertent yield”. That is a rather abstract way of saying that a burst of incredibly lethal radiation would be unleashed. The consequences of an accident could be catastrophic. If there were a major fire or explosion, lethal plutonium would be scattered downwind. Plutonium-241 has a half-life of 24,000 years and is difficult to detect. An accident in my constituency could leave it and neighbouring constituencies a wasteland.

Now it looks as if more convoys than ever will be travelling to and from Scotland. The MOD has a plan to overhaul and upgrade the entire stockpile of Trident nuclear warheads, the Mk4A refurbishment project. Successive Ministers have been coy about telling Parliament about those upgrades. Surely taking all the warheads down to Berkshire and then back to Scotland will mean that we can look forward to an increase in the frequency and size of convoys over the next few years.

Steven Paterson (Stirling) (SNP): My hon. Friend mentions convoys. Convoys include both the materials themselves and vehicles meant to deal with accidents when they happen. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the Minister share my concerns that in my constituency in 2007, the convoy vehicles got separated and lost in foggy weather; it took many hours for them to get back together, during which time anything could have happen and they would not have been able to respond.

Margaret Ferrier: I agree with my hon. Friend. In the longer term, this Government want to build a replacement for Trident and to keep nuclear weapons on the Clyde

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for at least another 50 years. It is being seriously discussed that those convoys will continue through the heart of Scotland’s largest city for the next half-century.

The convoys travel across Britain. The MOD’s own publication “Local authority and emergency services information” lists 85 English, 13 Welsh and 21 Scottish local authorities through which the convoys might travel. Those 21 alone account for about two-thirds of all Scottish local authorities. The convoys pass through many towns and cities, including Oxford, Birmingham, Leeds, Edinburgh and Stirling, but the most dangerous route that they take is through the middle of Glasgow. How would Members feel if those weapons of mass destruction were driving down Whitehall? That is the threat that the citizens of the Greater Glasgow area face on a regular basis.

In addition to moving whole nuclear weapons, the MOD also regularly transports radioactive components of nuclear weapons by road in specially-built high-security vehicles. Those vehicles entered service in 1991 and were due to be retired in 2003, but the date was put back to 2009, then to 2010 and then to 2014. The delay has meant that the MOD is using unreliable vehicles to move parts of nuclear weapons. The trucks have suffered a series of breakdowns and faults. Fred Dawson, former head of radiation protection at the MOD, said of the situation:

“This does little to instil a sense of confidence in the safety of MOD’s nuclear activities. One hopes that the MOD has RAC or AA home recovery cover on all its vehicles.”

The public found out about the nuclear convoys as a result of the work of campaigners in Nukewatch, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Scottish CND and Faslane Peace Camp, which have shown great commitment over many years in shining a light on those deadly cargos.

Today we live in a new world of social media. Eight weeks ago, several members of the public were horrified when they spotted the vehicles driving across Scotland. They took to Twitter to pass on to the world what they were seeing. The MOD is deluding itself if it thinks it can keep secret 20-vehicle nuclear convoys travelling on our main roads; they are well documented, with organisations such as Nukewatch tracking and recording them. Given that the convoys are so easily recognisable, they are a target. Road safety is not the only risk. Nuclear weapons cannot deter terrorism; instead, they pose a potential threat from terrorism.

In May, the people of Scotland selected 59 MPs; 57 made it clear in their campaigns that they opposed Trident. That decision should be respected. Continuing to transport nuclear weapons across Scotland is an insult to the people who live there. There is no safe way to move nuclear warheads. As long as there are nuclear convoys, there will be an unacceptable risk of a release of lethal radiation, and calling it an “inadvertent yield” makes it no more acceptable or less dangerous. The safest way forward is to scrap Trident and put an end to nuclear convoys.

The thought of nuclear weapons, which are designed to flatten cities, travelling close to our homes in the early hours of the morning is enough to give anyone nightmares. Parents should be able to put their children to bed at night without worrying about the risk of a nuclear accident. It is time to remove that danger and let us live in peace. I have questions for the Minister,

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which I hope she can answer at the end of the debate, and I will then pass over to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), who wishes to make a few comments.

Until 2005, MOD rules stated that nuclear weapon convoys should not travel in the hours of darkness. Can the Minister explain why that restriction was imposed and why it has been lifted? Between July 2007 and December 2012, there were 70 safety lapses on nuclear convoys. The highest number—23—was logged in 2012. To what extent have departmental spending cuts affected the apparent rise in safety incidents? What steps have been taken since 2005 to ensure that bomb safety features are not compromised in the event of a crash and how has the risk of an inadvertent yield been lessened?

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP) rose—

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Order. The rules of the House state that if an hon. Member wishes to speak, she must have the permission of the mover of the motion—I assume the hon. Lady does—and of the Minister.

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Penny Mordaunt): She does.

Sir Edward Leigh (in the Chair): Thank you. I call Kirsten Oswald.

11.12 am

Kirsten Oswald: Thank you, Sir Edward. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and the Minister.

My hon. Friend has made many important points this morning. Like her, I have substantial concerns about the transportation of nuclear weapons around the UK. Weapons of mass destruction have absolutely no place on our busy roads; in fact, they should have no place in our country at all. Weapons of mass destruction are wrong—morally, on safety grounds, on defence grounds and financially, too. The quoted cost of replacing Trident—£100 billion—is so big as to be almost beyond understanding. The Greek debt crisis, which is causing such concern, relates to figures of around £300 billion, so replacing Trident equates to a full third of Greek debt—an astonishing sum. Yet nuclear convoys continue to travel thousands of miles every year.

The journey from Aldermaston in the south of England to Coulport on the west coast of Scotland is a long one. Obviously, it is not clear exactly what routes are used, and I understand the reasons for that. What is very clear, however, is that, according to the “Local Authority and Emergency Services Information” document to which my hon. Friend referred, the Ministry of Defence has the ability to transport nuclear weapons all across the country. In fact, as she mentioned, it is expressly permitted to do so in 123 local authority areas in the UK—a huge swathe of the country, stretching from Exeter to Liverpool and Powys to Highland, and of course, many constituencies in Scotland, including my own constituency of East Renfrewshire. Transport through other areas is not ruled out if required. In reality, few areas of the UK have no likelihood of nuclear weapons being transported through them. I suggest that that is

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not widely known and that any community would feel real concern if convoys of nuclear warheads were driving down its roads.

The convoys drive on many of our busiest motorways, as well as major and minor roads. They travel alongside families going on holiday, people going to work and HGV drivers taking their loads around the UK. They also share the roads with other dangerous vehicles, such as fuel tankers. One of the worst types of accident that could happen is a collision between a tanker and a lorry carrying Trident nuclear weapons. The intense heat that would follow a fuel fire could engulf a nuclear warhead. The smoke drifting downwind would be contaminated with lethal plutonium. A severe fire could also cause the high explosive in the weapon to detonate. Although a nuclear explosion is unlikely, a conventional explosion in a Trident warhead would still have a devastating effect, dispersing plutonium for miles around.

As we heard, the MOD admitted that between July 2007 and December 2012 there were 70 incidents on nuclear weapon convoys: 56 engineering incidents and 14 operational incidents. Some related to support vehicles, but such incidents can still affect the whole convoy and its safety. In July 2011, a command vehicle suffered a dramatic loss of power and the whole convoy was left on the hard shoulder of the M6. Two lanes of the motorway were coned off and nuclear weapons were left sitting there. In July 2010, the convoy commander got lost and took a 45-minute diversion off the planned route. In March 2012, a convoy was diverted because of low-flying aircraft from an MOD establishment; what would happen if a low-flying fast jet collided with a lorry containing Trident nuclear warheads does not bear thinking about. The force of the impact would mean that there would be little left of the truck or its nuclear contents. Many of the 70 incidents might be dismissed as minor, but many had the potential to lead to much more serious situations.

The kind of threats that those in favour of Trident suggest it defends us against are not the threats that we are seeing manifest themselves across the world. None of us needs to be reminded about the terrible loss of life suffered as a result of terrorist attacks. Trident is not a deterrent against that real and present danger to our communities. Terrorists are a real danger to the safety of our Trident convoys. The only way to eliminate that threat is not to have Trident travelling on our roads at all.

We cannot afford to continue with more of these deadly cargos for another 50 years in the blind hope that a catastrophe will not happen. I call on the Minister and the Government to recognise the very significant dangers and to act decisively to bring them to an end. Like my hon. Friend, I would like the Minister to allow us to hear for the first time about the Mk4A project. What does it involve? How much will it cost? What impact will it have on the frequency of nuclear convoys? The truck cargo heavy duty Mk3 lorries that currently move nuclear weapons are due to be retired in 2025. It would be useful to know what provision has been made for a new fleet of lorries in the plans for Trident replacement, and at what cost.

11.17 am

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Penny Mordaunt): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) on securing this

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important debate and on her appointment to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Nuclear warhead transportation is clearly of concern to her and her constituents. It should be noted that it and related issues are of concern to people across the country, including those in areas such as the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile). I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said and I will address her points in turn. She will appreciate that I am limited in what I can say by security considerations, but I will try to give her the fullest answers possible. I start by reassuring her over the issues of cost that she raised. We are committed to all aspects of the deterrent and its security and safety. That has been the Government’s policy and it will continue to be. She will know that it was one of the red lines in our manifesto and is one of our red lines as we go into the strategic defence and security review.

The protection and defence of the United Kingdom is the primary responsibility of Government. In a world becoming more uncertain, as seen by the recent actions of a resurgent Russia, the Government are committed to maintaining the continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our national security. In recent years we have reduced our stockpile of warheads and the number of warheads on our submarines. The ratio of our warheads to Russia’s is roughly one to 40. I hope that indicates to the hon. Lady the scale of what we face and the fact that Trident is a deterrent.

Margaret Ferrier: I thank the Minister for her answers so far. As SNP Members, we will admit that we do not want any nuclear weapons, and her comparison between the UK and Russia does not sit well with us. We would like to see the deterrent abolished completely. If we use nuclear weapons, where would that leave the UK? There would be no UK; there would be obliteration. What are her comments on that?

Penny Mordaunt: I appreciate the hon. Lady’s intervention, because although the bulk of my remarks will focus on the safety and transportation concerns she has expressed—I take her concerns at face value—at the heart of the debate is her and her party’s position on nuclear weapons. Of course we never want to use such weapons. However, as a Defence Minister who passionately believes that there would be dread consequences for the hon. Lady’s constituents and the whole UK if we did not have a deterrent, I believe it is absolutely fundamental that we retain that deterrent and say to those who would do us harm that there would be consequences if they used such dread weapons against us. I am happy to debate that point with the hon. Lady and her colleagues at any time; it is incredibly important and at the heart of what the debate is about. I will take at face value her concerns about the transportation of warheads, so I will address the bulk of my remarks to those points.

The specialist defence sites involved in delivering our nuclear weapons programme are based at Clyde, at Coulport and at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire. As such, it is necessary to transport nuclear defence material, including warheads, between those sites, although the movement of such material is kept to the minimum necessary to meet operational requirements

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in support of the UK’s strategic deterrent programme. It is an important principle of nuclear warhead safety that warheads should not be moved unless it is necessary.

I make it absolutely clear that the safety of the general public and the security of nuclear weapons convoys are our first priority at all times. Safety is paramount during the transportation of defence material, and all appropriate measures are taken to ensure that such weapon convoys can operate safely. Our safety record is excellent. In more than 50 years of transporting such material by road in the UK, there has never been an incident that has presented any risk to the public or the environment. A stringent safety reporting system is in place so that all incidents, however minor, are recorded and assessed for possible improvements to future operations.

The hon. Lady and her colleague referred to the log and expressed concerns, particularly about transportation during severe weather. As Members would expect, I have been through the log. On the Erskine bridge incident, the authorities were consulted. In any scenario where there are adverse weather conditions, Traffic Scotland and the police in Scotland are consulted. The convoy was not crossing the bridge until the weather had moved on. That is recorded.

Concerns have previously been expressed about convoys travelling through residential and urban areas. While the House would not expect me to discuss the specific details of routes for obvious security reasons, I assure Members that the routes are carefully selected as part of a rigorous risk assessment process and are regularly reassessed for their continued suitability. The transportation of nuclear and other hazardous materials is governed by international and national regulations, including the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009, as amended in 2013. Although there are exemptions for certain defence-related activities, Government policy is to comply with the principles of those exemptions.

The safety of nuclear convoy operations is carefully considered at all stages of the transportation process. Operational planning always takes into account such factors as road and weather conditions, and we consult with all relevant local agencies before undertaking a convoy move. Contingencies are planned for. The convoy is operated by a highly trained crew, consisting of a first-aid team, firefighters, mechanics and others to enable roadside repairs and personnel equipped to monitor for radiological hazards.

Members will be aware that the weapon is by its very nature an extremely robust device, designed to withstand launch and re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. It is transported in a benign configuration and secured in a custom-designed container that is tested in accordance with International Atomic Energy Agency standards to protect against a range of scenarios, including impact on a motorway at speed, a drop from height and a fuel fire, among others.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Penny Mordaunt: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will make a little progress. The vehicle that carries the container is custom-designed to provide robust crash protection, even in the event of a severe road accident. We have invested in our vehicle fleet and completed a significant upgrade programme in 2014.

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Another issue that the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West mentioned was the threat of terrorism with the transportation of nuclear materials. The risks associated with terrorist attack are mitigated by a range of counter-measures, including the vehicle itself, specific warhead protection measures, intelligence, monitoring and armed escort, which includes the Ministry of Defence police. Although the operational details of those counter-measures are understandably classified, Members can be reassured that we have the capabilities to deal with any such threats. Our security arrangements are kept under review, frequently tested and subject to formal inspections to ensure that they meet the required standards.

The limited movement of nuclear defence material together with inherent safety and security features and procedures mean that the probability of an accident leading to a release of radiation is extremely low. Nevertheless, as part of our rigorous approach to safety we maintain wider arrangements to respond to any incident, no matter how unlikely; that includes the Nuclear Emergency Organisation and the necessary contingency plans to deal with any accident. Under the auspices of the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator and with the participation of the emergency services and local authorities, we also carry out regular exercises to rigorously test the continued effectiveness of our response.

Kirsten Oswald: Does the Minister not accept that that will be cold comfort to our constituents, given that it would take a minimum of four hours for those emergency activities to manifest themselves in our constituencies should an incident occur?

Penny Mordaunt: The hon. Lady is not correct. The nature of the convoy means that those necessary responses are built in. Any reaction that would need to go beyond that is rigorously tested and speedy.

I understand that this is not the first SNP debate that focuses on safety concerns. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West will know from freedom

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of information material that the incidents she referred to are very low-level and include putting the wrong fuel into a support vehicle. They have not in any way threatened the safety or security of the material in transit. The level of concern that the hon. Lady expresses is disproportionate to the incidents—I think that comes down to her party’s objection to the deterrent full stop.

I hope that the hon. Lady’s party will focus on that issue. I would be happy to engage in the debate because I passionately believe that we need the deterrent. Focusing disproportionately on safety—the incidents are in the public domain, so I can clearly show what they were, how meticulously they were recorded and the “lessons learned” programme that followed—does those who support Operation Relentless a grave disservice. These are incredible men and women who, whether they are on the submarines or part of the support and logistics operation, do an incredible job. One thing that I object to about the hon. Lady’s line of argument is that it does those people a disservice. If the issue is whether we should have nuclear weapons, I hope the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West will focus on that.

Several hon. Members rose

Penny Mordaunt: I will have to draw my remarks to a conclusion, for the reasons that you set out at the beginning, Sir Edward.

I think I will close on this: I am happy to hear any suggestions that SNP Members have about how safety can be improved and any other practical concerns, but I am not sure what they are suggesting. Are they suggesting that we move part of the operation elsewhere? I am not sure, but I would be happy to hear what they have to say.

Question put and agreed to.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Srebrenica Genocide (20th Anniversary)

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide.

At least 8,372 men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army within a couple of days, starting on 11 July 1995. At the time, I was in the Army and the Chief of Policy at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe at Mons in Belgium. I was there when the first reports of what was happening in Srebrenica came through. The operation in Bosnia then was a United Nations operation rather than a NATO one. Despite Srebrenica being declared a UN safe area under the watch of the UN protection force, Serbian paramilitary units over-ran and captured the town. Then General Ratko Mladic and his Bosnian Serb forces systematically rounded up and murdered well over 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys. It was an act of genocide.

Mladic’s men methodically and coldly separated out men and boys, and herded them away. Fusillades of shots were heard throughout the area, as batches of the men and boys were cold-bloodedly and methodically shot. Mladic himself had promised that no harm would befall anyone, but it was immediately obvious to the local people that that was a total lie.

For their part, the 400-strong Dutch battalion under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Karremans, which was charged by the UN with protecting the citizens of Srebrenica, did very little by way of protest, and even surrendered men and boys to the Bosnian Serb army. At the time in Mons, I asked the SHAPE staff why the Dutch battalion charged with protecting Srebrenica had not used its weapons to safeguard the people. I was told that they had been ordered not to get involved, which I found appalling—under the Geneva conventions of war, those in command have a duty to protect civilians. Unbelievably, I was also told that the Dutch had used the excuse that they could not open fire because their anti-tank weapons were out of date. That is astonishing, considering that most of the belligerent forces’ weapons were out of date anyway by that time.

There is overwhelming evidence of a huge number of atrocities. Men and boys were taken away and summarily murdered in batches; individuals were cut down at whim; and large piles of bodies were pushed into huge pits by bulldozers. Some of the victims were undoubtedly buried alive. One child, who could not have been more than 10, was ordered to rape his sister and was killed when he could not do so. Mothers had their babies’ throats slit before they themselves were raped. Many people chose to commit suicide and some people, particularly women, hanged themselves in the woods around Srebrenica. Agony and death were everywhere, and yet the Bosnian Serb army and its friends carried on committing cold-blooded acts of murder against anyone who they thought was a Muslim. The situation was sheer hell.

Despite being far away in Belgium at the time, I felt a deep affinity with the people on the ground in Srebrenica. Some two years before, it was my soldiers who had first gone into Srebrenica and it was my UN commander, General Philippe Morillon, who had declared on 16 April 1993 that Srebrenica would be protected.

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When I learned what was happening in Srebrenica two years after I had left, I felt sick at heart and in some way responsible for what was happening. In truth, the people of Srebrenica had been abandoned to a ghastly fate by the rest of the world. In February 1993, as commander of the British UN battalion in Bosnia, I had witnessed such bestiality at a place called Ahmici in central Bosnia. We even had to dig a mass grave into which we placed more than a hundred bodies—children, women and men. But the horror did not stop there; it continued.

On 1 March 1993, as their commander I ordered soldiers of B Squadron 9th/12th Royal Lancers to cross the lines from Tuzla to see what could be done to help people in Srebrenica, who were being besieged by the Bosnian Serb army. My intelligence organisation suggested that the situation in Srebrenica was very grim, and intelligence officers heard repeated commercial radio calls from Srebrenica for someone—anyone—to come and save them. It was heart-rending.

During the next two days, my soldiers managed to get to Srebrenica after a very difficult passage through hostile Bosnian Serb army territory. When they arrived, they found an appalling situation. About 20 civilians had been killed by incoming shellfire when our vehicles appeared, because they had naturally clustered around us; they were surrounded by people who they believed were their deliverance. One officer—my interpreter, Captain Nick Costello—was talking to a woman holding a baby when the baby’s head was blown off by a shell splinter.

A few days later, we escorted General Morillon into Srebrenica. He was welcomed almost as a saviour but after a while, when he said he was going back to his command headquarters in Sarajevo, the people blocked him in and refused to let him leave. Off his own bat, he declared Srebrenica to be a UN protected area. None the less, there was a crying need to get innocent people out of the place and to safety. Between March and April 1993, British soldiers under my command, including pilots flying helicopters provided by French forces and the Royal Navy, evacuated several thousand Bosnian people from the Srebrenica enclave. Shortly afterwards, the UN ordered British soldiers to be replaced—first by Canadians and then, a year or so later, by an ineffective Dutch battalion.

The Bosnian Serb army finally took the town of Srebrenica on 11 July 1995. Upwards of 10,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys attempted to walk 63 miles across mountains, rivers and minefields to reach safety in the nearest Muslim territory of Tuzla. Only about 2,000 of them made it.

When I visited Srebrenica recently, I met Nedžad Avdic, who was only 17 in July 1995, when he was shot. He was with me yesterday in Parliament but cannot be here today. Despite being badly wounded, he survived and crawled out from under the bodies of his friends. I wish to place on the record what he said. His testimony is chilling. This is what he told me:

“In July 1995, when Mladic’s offensive started, the Dutch forgot us, left their checkpoints and fled. We had no option but to follow them and wait for help, but it did not come.

We were afraid of going to the Dutch HQ at Potocari and feared for our lives. After days of hiding in the woods and hills around Srebrenica, my father, uncle and I headed in the direction of Tuzla on a long, unknown and uncertain road through the woods and minefields.”

Those minefields were extensive: it took us a huge amount of time to negotiate them and get there.

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“We were an endless column of men and boys under constant bombardment by Serb artillery from the hills. Many of us were killed and the wounded cried out, in vain, for help.

In the chaos, I lost my father and ran through the crowd crying and calling for him. Lost in the middle of the forest, we did not know where to go. Bare-footed, exhausted and frightened we gave ourselves up. As many as 2,000 men and boys were loaded on to lorries, including me.

We were tortured and were dying for a drop of water. We were forced to take off our clothes. One of the soldiers tied our hands our backs. At that moment, I realised it was the end. We were told to find a place and lined up, five by five.

I thought I would die fast without suffering. Thinking that my mother would never know where I finished they begun to shoot us in the back. I don’t know whether I lost consciousness, but I lay on my stomach bleeding and trembling. I was shot in my stomach and right arm.

The shooting continued and I watched the lines of people falling down. I could hear and feel bullets hitting all around me. Shortly after that I was wounded heavily in my left foot. Men were dying all around me. I was dying in deadly pains and had no strength to call them to kill me. I said to myself: ‘Oh my God, why don’t I die?’

The pain was unbearable. It was midnight and the lorry moved away. Trying to raise my head I noticed a man who was moving. We untied one another”—

can you imagine the pain this boy was going through?—

“and avoided the next arriving lorry.

After days of wandering through woods, hiding in streams, sleeping in grave-yards and crawling with my terrible pains, we reached territory under Bosnian government control. My father, uncle and relatives who sought shelter with the Dutch soldiers in Potocari did not survive.”

The Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Centre, situated on the opposite side of the road from where the Dutch battalion was based, records the known deaths of 8,372 people murdered by the rampaging Bosnian Serb army. Nobody can be absolutely certain, but most certainly 6,066 bodies are buried in the Potocari cemetery and about 7,000 genocide victims have been identified through DNA analysis of body parts recovered from mass graves.

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Bob Stewart: I give way to my very good friend.

Karen Lumley: My hon. Friend is making an excellent, powerful speech. Last year, I travelled to Srebrenica to see that centre and worked with a local charity, Medica Zenica, which looks after people who were raped during the war. We met a woman there who had been raped so many times she did not even know who the father of her child was. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the mums of Srebrenica, because they have tirelessly worked to make sure that this will never, ever be forgotten and should never, ever happen again.

Bob Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend for her very appropriate intervention. It is highly appropriate and a great honour that some of the mothers of Srebrenica have just arrived in this Chamber. All of us in Parliament pay tribute to them for what they have had to endure. Many families in Srebrenica lost all their menfolk.

I have seen some 1,000 body parts that are yet to be formally identified. Of course, some people’s remains will never be found. I am president of the British charity, Remembering Srebrenica. It has organised remembrance

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events in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I thank colleagues from those countries who have helped those events take place. Yesterday, there was a large remembrance service in Westminster Abbey—2,000 people attended—and there are continuing remembrance events throughout the country this week.

There is another charity that does sterling work in the Srebrenica area, but it gets scant funding recognition from the British Government and I wish that to be put right. The charity, officially called The Fund for Refugees in Slovenia, was founded in 1992 by my friend, Lady Miloska Nott OBE, who is here today. Despite its name, the charity’s main thrust has always been in Bosnia. There it has done long-term, sustainable work in the Srebrenica area— not so much the town, but 20 km out from it, in an area that was deeply affected, too. It has built 144 houses and 14 schools for those most affected by the 1995 genocide. It has also built a medical centre. I pay a huge tribute to all that Lady Nott and her charity have achieved.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Bob Stewart: With the greatest pleasure.

Andrew Stephenson: I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on securing this debate. Before being elected as an MP in June 2009, I visited Srebrenica. It was an extremely moving experience that left a lasting impression on me. I echo what my hon. Friend says about the charity; Lady Nott helped organised the visit for me and other colleagues. I commend her work and that of the organisation. I echo what my hon. Friend says about working with such charities, to continue the rebuilding in Srebrenica and ensure that this genocide is never forgotten.

Bob Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which I endorse and want to add to. One of the things that Lady Nott’s charity does is to take Members of Parliament to spend the night in some of the houses that her charity has built. Through that experience, colleagues get a real feel for what is actually happening on the ground.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the Government recognise this great work. Please, if they can, will our Government contribute financially to the work of a charity that is extremely well run, has good due diligence and makes such an impact on the local area?

I will finish now. This morning, we paused to remember the 7/7 bombings. This Saturday, 11 July 2015, we should all pause to remember that, 20 years ago, the hopes and lives of a small town—8,372 men and boys—were agonisingly destroyed by Bosnian Serb bullets. God bless their memory. All our prayers go to those who survived the Srebrenica massacre and to the mothers of Srebrenica, who still live with what happened every moment of their lives.

2.51 pm

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): It is an honour and a privilege to follow the excellent and moving speech by my hon. Friend on the other side of the House, as I like to call him, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who had a distinguished career in Bosnia and who has done so much since to raise what happened not only in Srebrenica

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but in so many other places. I have often been truly moved when he has told me of his experiences during those times, as well as those of his wife and many others. Truly, one can only imagine the horrors that he and many others saw.

It is a bleak week, as my hon. Friend said. Today, we remember those who were tragically killed in the 7/7 bombings in London. It is only a short while since the horrific attacks in Tunisia. Tragically, it is the 20th anniversary of the genocide—it is clear that it was a genocide—in Srebrenica. It is an opportunity to stop and reflect on the consequences that hate, intolerance, ideology and, dare I say it, turning a blind eye can have for men, girls, boys and women—humans who share the same blood and flesh as us, regardless of their religion, ethnicity and background. It was truly moving to attend the memorial in Westminster Abbey yesterday and to have the chance to meet again many people I was able to meet on a trip with Remembering Srebrenica to Srebrenica, Potocari, Tuzla and other locations. I saw the places where such horror and brutality emerged, and I can say without hesitation that it was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

I remember what I was doing in 1995. I was 15 years old. I was out celebrating with friends on the beaches of west Wales, having a good time and relaxing, yet Nedžad Avdic, who my hon. Friend referred to and whom I have met, was just two years older and was being corralled into a building with his family and friends. He saw so many brutally murdered and executed around him. That struggle, which my hon. Friend illustrated so clearly with Nedžad’s words, serves as an example to us all. We might live in the same continent, but great horrors can emerge at any time.

While I was in Bosnia, we travelled to Srebrenica and Potocari on a bus. As we approached one of the tunnels on the windy roads through the beautiful Bosnian countryside, one of our guides—he was also a survivor, and his name was Mohammed—said, “This is where I emerged from the tunnel.” I said, “What do you mean?” He was one of those who managed to escape to make that long, arduous march through the mountains, attempting to evade the Serb forces at every step. Those people suffered without food and water in brutal circumstances. He was one of the lucky ones—he survived. He told me that he had done a lot of survival training as a youngster in equivalent bodies to the scouts. He used those skills, but his friends and those around him who did not have that skill of surviving in the wilderness often succumbed or were lured down to what they thought was safety by Serbs who told them to come down from the mountains. In fact they were being lured to their deaths—that was the brutality of it. I was taken aback by the video footage kept by those who committed the atrocities. While we were in Potocari we saw some truly chilling footage of executions, of people being led away and of people being lured falsely to their deaths. It will stick with me for the rest of my life.

We also went, as my hon. Friend reflected, to the mortuary and saw the work of the International Commission on Missing Persons. I was truly shocked not only that brutal murders had been carried out, but that the Serb forces chose to disturb the mass graves and dig bodies up. They knew that the evidence would emerge, so they tampered with the remains. They split them across multiple graves. It is truly shocking.

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Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Like the hon. Gentleman, I have been to Srebrenica, and I think it leaves an indelible mark on the soul of anyone who has been. It was such a dreadful occurrence.

The hon. Gentleman mentions the International Commission on Missing Persons. When I visited, we met ladies who still have not found their husbands and sons because of the atrocities that the Serbs committed with the reburial of bodies. The ladies of Srebrenica cannot lay their loved ones to rest. I commend publicly the work that the International Commission on Missing Persons is doing to try to identify remains through DNA and other means. That would enable those people at least to lay their loved ones to rest.

Stephen Doughty: I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. I was struck by how so many people were not afforded dignity in their life and were then also denied it in their death, as were their families. Many Srebrenica mothers are sitting in the Public Gallery, and I have been struck by how they just want the matter resolved—they just want to know where their loved ones lay. Advances in technology have enabled identifications to take place, but the extent of the desecration and damage to the graves was such that a number of individuals still cannot be identified. I praise the work of those involved in the International Commission on Missing Persons and others who have done such diligent work over many years trying to bring that sense of closure to the families. I must point out that that feeling is shared by the new generation in the Balkans. One of the workers we met in the mortuary was from Serbia. She was absolutely dedicated to her work, and she wanted to ensure justice and dignity for the families so brutally broken apart by these acts.

Much has been said, and many reports have been written, about the terrible events of that time in Bosnia. Much focus has been put on the situation of the Dutch forces in Potocari and others. To my mind, the actions that took place were deeply concerning and unconscionable. To walk around the battery factory and other locations where thousands were effectively sent to their deaths is a deeply disturbing experience.

It is fair to say that although I am proud of this country’s role in recognising the genocide, in holding memorial events such as we saw yesterday and in hosting the President of Bosnia and many others—including the mothers and survivors in the last few days—we must take a step back and reflect as an international community. This weekend, a number of concerning allegations were made in The Observer concerning what the wider international community knew about directive 7 and about the speech that Ratko Mladic gave to the Bosnian Assembly where he said of the enclaves:

“My concern is to have them vanish completely.”

There were questions about the messages or signals alleged to have been given to Mladic, Karadžic, the Bosnian Government and others about the tenability of the enclaves. We know that on 2 June, Mladic ordered the destruction of Muslim forces in the enclaves, but it is important that we are frank about the worrying allegations that some members of the intelligence services from other countries—including, I am sorry to say, the UK—knew about some of the Serb plans.

I do not think it would be right to focus on individuals, but the allegations are serious and worrying. I do not know their veracity, but it is vital that the international

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community does all it can to own up to whatever faults and failings there were, as happened after the terrible genocide in Rwanda and other international atrocities. I ask the Minister gently for some assurance that those allegations are being looked at and that any evidence that emerges will be shared in full and frank detail. Now, we can only learn from the horrors, and from the failure at all levels to protect all those people in Srebrenica and at other locations. We must do that. We assume that the march of progress is inevitable and that these crimes cannot happen again, but unfortunately it has been shown far too often that they can.

When we were in Sarajevo, we saw a remarkable and moving exhibition of photos of survivors from Srebrenica and the surrounding areas. I encourage everyone to see it, because it is an important indicator of what happened. It was displayed alongside an exhibition about the horrors and atrocities being committed in Syria today. We need to reflect on the fact that, tragically, we often consider situations after the event and look back at what may have gone wrong. There has been much controversy in the House about the votes and decisions that we have taken on Syria, on which Members have different views. Why do we always focus on those decisions, rather than look back two and a half or three years earlier to understand how we got to a position where such atrocities and flagrant abuses of human rights could take place? That is something for all of us to reflect on.

It is all very well to judge or criticise those who have taken specific decisions, but the question is: how did we allow this to happen on European soil just 20 years ago? How can we work, on all sides of the House, across the continent and across the world, to ensure that such horrors can never happen again?

3.2 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I add my congratulations my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) on securing this debate and on his work on Srebrenica in the House. I pay tribute to him and to all involved for ensuring that the tragic events in Srebrenica have not been forgotten. The commemoration of those events serves as a warning to all of us, particularly those in government in or positions of influence, of what can happen even here in Europe, which we tend to think of as civilised, and certainly as safe and secure compared with many parts of this troubled world.

Evil can enter the hearts and minds of men. As the service of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer says, we must

“be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”.

The devil can enter the hearts of mankind, especially when propaganda and evil leadership are involved.

Like the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), I was privileged to join my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham in last year’s delegation. Such a visit reminds one of the evil that can take place, even in mainland Europe. Those of us who attended yesterday’s commemorative service at Westminster Abbey and the reception that followed heard from a number of people about how important

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the UK’s voice can be and how much the UK has contributed, over many generations, to the attempt to bring peace and stability to many troubled parts of the world. The challenge continues.

Since he was first elected five years ago, my hon. and gallant Friend has worked tirelessly to ensure that the events of 1995, and those who were brutally murdered, are not forgotten. I thank him for his dedication, not least through his campaigning as the president of Remembering Srebrenica, a British charity founded by its chairman.

As we have heard, 8,372 men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces. Those murdered were both old and young; I note that the eldest was 94 and the youngest five. Although their ages were diverse, their ethnicity was not. The victims of this horrific moment of barbarity on European soil were targeted based on who they were. They were killed in some of the most brutal and barbaric ways imaginable—they were events that one can find it very difficult to believe. As has been said, the genocide was the worst crime in Europe since the second world war.

My hon. and gallant Friend described in chilling detail how the slaughter came about and was carried out. We must never forget the brutality that man is capable of, and it is right that we use parliamentary time to commemorate the events of two decades ago. The atrocities now taking place in north Africa, Iraq, Syria and so many other places remind us that we must be eternally vigilant. It is worth recalling that the former Yugoslavia was a popular holiday destination for British people, who would have visited many of the places touched by the massacre. A mainstream European country descended into brutality. Let us hope that we can indeed remain eternally vigilant. But will we? Let us hope and pray that we do.