2.52 pm

Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I would like first to thank the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) for securing this debate in Westminster Hall today. As hon. Members will know, the Medway Secure Training Centre is in my constituency, and for me it was heart-breaking and horrifying to witness the “Panorama” programme and watch the activity that was taking place. We knew this programme was going to be broadcast, but what I saw was not I had expected to see. I say that because, on an individual level and prior to becoming an MP, I did a lot of work with looked-after children, particularly children with foster carers or in children’s homes, so I understand not only some of the challenges that some of our young people face when they are looked after, but the upbringing that some of them have had prior to arriving in a place such as the Medway Secure Training Centre.

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I know that we will not go into detail, because the investigation is ongoing and there are still questions that need to be answered, but one of the concerns for me is about how we can support the workers in these particular institutions to enable them to carry out their role in a safe manner, to make sure that the young people under their control are looked after and safe. Having worked with some very challenging young people and experienced what I would call situations that have not always been pleasant or easy to manage, I know that the people working in the service and dealing with young people are in an incredibly pressurised environment. It is extremely intense, and sometimes we do not quite know how we will deal with a particular situation.

I absolutely accept that that is not an acceptable excuse for how some young people are treated when they are in our care. However, what I would like to see as an outcome of this process is to consider how we support the officers who work with these young people to do that job effectively, including from a mental health perspective, because obviously some of the things they might be subjected to and the backgrounds of some of the young people they deal with might be awful for them to understand.

In Medway, we have three secure units up at the Medway Secure Training Centre site. One of the challenges I have seen, both as a constituency MP and as a local councillor for the ward where the unit is, is that we have struggled to recruit people into the youth justice element of the secure centres—because, fundamentally, working there is very different from working in an adult prison and the pressures are much more strenuous. I would welcome it if the Government looked at ways to support those officers far more effectively—that would probably have national implications—and also to encourage people to come into the service and work. As we know, however, we are struggling to recruit social workers and other such workers.

Marie Rimmer: Does the hon. Lady agree that if prison is to be justified as a last resort, it must operate in a small, rehabilitative and therapeutic environment, rather than having big prisons? What we need is a well structured induction programme, adapted to suit each individual—many children do not see anyone in the first 24 hours after they go in—with thorough background checks carried out; risk assessments; well attended safeguarding and daily morning meetings, allowing for effective and robust measures to be applied; strong monitoring of bullying and support for prisoners who are victimised—

Phil Wilson (in the Chair): Order. I remind the hon. Member that she is making an intervention and not a speech.

Kelly Tolhurst: I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention; she makes a valid point. My concern is about the support given to those particular officers. Unless someone has been in that environment and worked with some of these young people, it is very difficult to understand some of the pressures—it might be something as simple as shift lengths—and how intense the environment is.

I was contacted by a number of people who work within the service after those revelations, who are concerned that the public view will now be that people who work

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in the youth justice system are all like that, which we know is completely untrue. In fact, they include some marvellous people, who I have had the privilege to meet.

Jo Stevens: I am sure we can reach cross-party agreement on this, but I wonder whether professionalising the work of these staff—who, as the hon. Lady has outlined, work in very challenging conditions—and trying to recruit people who want to go into the profession would raise public perceptions and help to raise standards.

Kelly Tolhurst: Absolutely. We must value the work that people in these centres do; in fact, it can be one of the most rewarding things that anyone can do.

As someone who had worked in commerce, my personal experience of working with young people who had such terrible backgrounds and were facing such severe challenges was one of the best things I have ever done. The staff do go through a training programme, but again there are things that perhaps cannot be learned quickly, and things come up along the way. Every single child—young person, I should say—is different. Every single young person has a completely different set of circumstances that has led to them being in the system. I absolutely agree that this should all be about outcomes.

John Howell: Does my hon. Friend have a view on whether institutions for young people are a valid option or whether greater integration of young and adult institutions is a better option?

Kelly Tolhurst: Speaking from personal experience, I absolutely believe that institutions are the right place for some young people. For example, it may not necessarily be easy for them to be in a family. It is absolutely right that we have institutions where adults can be mentors, there to look after those young people on a daily basis and to work with them to rehabilitate them. My personal view is that young people should not be integrated with the adult prison service. They have different requirements, and sometimes the offences are different for particular reasons.

My biggest concern is that all these young people will eventually become adults. Whether they are looked-after children who have had a difficult background in different institutions, or whether they are unfortunate enough—maybe through fault of their own—to end up in a secure training centre, for me there is nothing more important than ensuring that we are doing all we can to ensure that the outcomes for those young people as adults are improved. The Government’s aim is to achieve that. I welcome Charlie Taylor’s review of the system. I would like to see a review in particular of the Medway centre and some of the safeguarding. I point out that I definitely have not seen all the footage and I have not been privy to the information that “Panorama” picked up during recording, but the centre is broken up into different units, and I believe that we are only looking at one element. I would like to hear some of the better stories that have come out of that centre, which I am sure exist.

Fundamentally, I welcome the debate and the review that is taking place. From a local council perspective, I was impressed as a local Member of Parliament by the immediate response that my local authority made to

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deal with the allegations. The local authority is carrying out due diligence in following through on the investigations in the local authority-designated officer review and in co-operating completely with the police.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): What the hon. Lady is saying from her experience and her contact with the Medway centre is very important. In general terms, does she agree that it is partly about the ethos and professionalism of the members of staff, but also partly about the ratios between the young people and the members of staff? Generally speaking, the more staff who can devote time and attention to young people, the better things are.

Kelly Tolhurst: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Personally, I still think it is a matter of the individual young person’s needs. There is no system that fits all. I am not so sure that the issue is ratios; it is about the particular care plans around those particular children or young people, the reasons why they are in the centre and the individual support they need. That is obviously just my view, but staff build up relationships with young people who may have been exposed to some desperate situations and who may have seen and witnessed things that have affected their development. Some of the challenges affecting the young people—whether those are mental or in terms of decision making—are not always evident when the staff start working with them. It is harder for young people, because adults can articulate things more easily. Sometimes it is a big challenge for young people to articulate some of the things that have happened to them and some of their thought processes.

My honest belief is that there is not an easy solution. I am pleased that this issue is on our radar, but I wish that it had not had to be brought forward by BBC “Panorama”. I am desperately sad that young people have been affected by what has been shown to have happened there, but we have an opportunity to move forward and do what we can. As an MP who has three secure units in my constituency, I will be taking an interest in the issue, not just because of my interest in looked-after children and wanting the very best outcomes for our young people, but because I want a constituency where my constituents are happy that what is going on in our patch is right. I welcome the debate and I welcome the information that will be released in the coming months by the review.

3.6 pm

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on securing this important debate. Today’s debate was anticipated by the exposure by “Panorama” of the Medway secure training centre earlier this month. The prison abuses it broadcast, which we have discussed today, are shocking and to be condemned, and I thank Members for their valuable and knowledgeable contributions.

It is important to acknowledge that youth justice is a devolved policy area, and the Ministry of Justice is responsible for justice policy in England and Wales only. My brief contribution to this debate will therefore acknowledge the importance of promoting the safety of

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children and young people in the criminal justice system more generally, and I will refer to how youth justice is administrated in Scotland to provide some experience of an alternative strategy that the UK Government may wish to consider.

If we are to prevent young people from going down the wrong path in life, we must be proactive in making timely, appropriate and effective interventions to address offending behaviour at the outset. That will keep our communities and children safe from crime, including protecting young people when they are detained. We must ensure that action is taken by all agencies so that adequate safeguards and structures are put in place to prevent abuse.

The hon. Member for Bradford South rightly questioned the safety of young people in these institutions. It is only fair to acknowledge that children and young people facing the desperate circumstances that she referred to rightly deserve the safety and wellbeing that can and should be provided by these institutions. As she said, that is key to their rehabilitation. We must ensure that young people are at the heart of that. This could be a moment in time in their lives, and they could move on to much greater things with the right support. I hope that all Members in the room acknowledge that.

The hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) rightly emphasised that young people are in many ways still children. He took the time to emphasise the impact that mental health can have on young people’s experiences in the institutions, and that point should be highlighted.

The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) spoke of her personal experience, as the Medway centre is in her constituency. She spoke of the heart-breaking and horrifying experience she had learning of these things. I am sure that no Member in this room takes any pleasure in or would choose to politicise such an important and truly atrocious example of bad practice. I am sure there are many more examples of good practice across the country, but we must in this instance take stock of bad practice and look at what we can do across the country to make the experience better and to ensure that these young people go on to better and positive destinations.

The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) said that safeguarding young people and children should be at the heart of the work we do. She also made the constructive and important point that bullying should be monitored. These children and young people experience the day-to-day issues other young people face, and institutions must ensure that their experiences are not damaged by bad practice or bad management in those institutions.

As I mentioned, youth justice is a devolved matter in Scotland. The youth justice strategy for Scotland from 2015 to 2020 focuses on taking a whole-system approach, improving life chances and developing the capacity for improvement. An holistic approach to youth offending and rehabilitation allows us to reverse negative trends and curb the statistics, to prevent offending from happening again. Indeed, in Scotland, there has been a substantial reduction in offence referrals to the Children’s Reporter, as well as in the number of young people committing crimes and the number of 16 and 17-year-olds in custody. Partnership working has been crucial to that, and it will remain integral to the delivery of the strategy, with consideration of course given to the role of alternative measures.

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The Scottish Government’s vision is to promote Scotland as the best place for children to grow up. That was outlined in 2008 in “Preventing Offending by Young People—Framework for Action”, marking a significant shift towards prevention and early intervention, combined with procedures to manage high risk and build community confidence. In particular, the children’s hearings system is a unique feature of the Scottish youth justice system, providing special protective measures for children and dealing with offending alongside the child’s needs and best interests. Fundamentally, the hearings recognise that children and young people who offend and who require care and protection are equally deserving of being considered as children in need.

In conclusion, all children and young people have the right to be cared for and to be protected from harm, and we cannot forget that. They must be allowed to grow up in a safe environment, and the duty of child protection is shared among all of us in society, not just core professionals. In the case of the Medway secure training centre, that duty was completely breached, and I hope the Minister will take my points on board and ensure that further action is taken. I thank all Members for their contributions.

3.12 pm

Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on securing a timely and much-needed debate on this subject, and I thank all hon. Members for their contributions.

It is agreed that the safety of children in custody is paramount. The investigation by the BBC broadcast on 11 January, which uncovered serious and shocking incidents at Medway secure training centre, must be my starting point. Those incidents have once again highlighted the need for urgent action specifically at that centre, but they are also indicative of failures across secure training centres and the prison estate as a whole.

For those hon. Members who have not viewed the programme, I should say that it makes for extremely disturbing viewing. There are allegations of guards unnecessarily using restraint techniques, hitting a teenager, pressing heavily on young people’s necks, using intimidating language and taking concerted action to conceal their behaviour by avoiding CCTV cameras and misreporting incidents. That is simply unacceptable. Since the broadcast, four G4S staff members have been dismissed and four other staff members have been suspended, including one person employed by the healthcare provider.

As hon. Members may be aware, the Labour party called on the Secretary of State to take immediate action to put all G4S-run prisons, secure training centres and detention centres into special measures and to prevent G4S from being considered for bidding for other Government contracts. He responded that the allegations must be treated with the “utmost seriousness”, and police and child protection teams are investigating. However, we should not believe that that is the end of the matter. Running a centre such as Medway requires staff who are well trained and properly motivated and who have a full appreciation of their role in the youth justice system, as the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) mentioned.

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Just last September, G4S was stripped of its contract for managing a separate STC—Rainsbrook, in Northamptonshire—following an inspection revealing that there had been a doubling in the number of assaults since the last inspection; that 15 young people had required medical attention following assaults, with one requiring hospital treatment; and that the number of assaults on staff was higher than at the previous inspection, averaging nine per month. Let us not forget that G4S is still the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

Such incidents raise serious questions as to whether G4S is a fit and proper organisation to run youth facilities. However, the debate is about not only what happened at Medway, but youth custody generally. Unfortunately, the problems underlying recent incidents are echoed across the prison estate. Ministry of Justice figures show that deaths, incidents of self-harm and assaults in prison are at their highest level in a decade, with assaults up 13% in a year, serious assaults on prison staff up 42% in a year, self-harm up 21% from last year and seven prison murders in the last 12 months—the highest number recorded since 1978.

In 2012, the Prison Reform Trust and INQUEST jointly published a report entitled “Fatally flawed: Has the state learned lessons from the deaths of children and young people in prison?” The report considered the deaths of 143 children and young adults between 2003 and 2010. It concluded that many young people whose deaths were self-inflicted shared common traits and that successive Governments had not learned the lessons from those deaths.

A further INQUEST report in March 2015 studied the deaths of 65 young people and children between 2011 and 2014. It concluded that institutions had not learned the lessons from previous deaths, stating:

“The vulnerabilities of young prisoners have been well documented, yet they continue to be sent to unsafe environments, with scarce resources and staff untrained to deal with, and respond humanely to, their particular and complex needs.”

The report concluded that

“too many deaths occur because the same mistakes are made time and again.”

Last July, the Harris review published its report “Changing Prisons, Saving Lives: Report of the Independent Review into Self-inflicted Deaths in Custody of 18-24 year olds”. Soon after the report was published, another report, from the Children's Commissioner for England, revealed that a third of young offenders experience isolation and segregation for up to 22 hours a day, particularly in larger institutions. The report found that the children who are isolated are nearly 50% more at risk of suicide. It called for an end to solitary confinement and urged that large secure units for children be replaced by smaller units.

Overcrowding and a widespread lack of staff resources across the Prison Service is leading, not surprisingly, to widespread problems. Temporary staff are used to fill quotas, but they often do not have the requisite experience to carry out such a challenging yet important role. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) said, prison officers simply lack the time to do anything more than carry out the most straightforward security functions, with no time to talk to inmates or to assist in their rehabilitation. There is no time to spot mental ill health, or drug issues. The hon. Member for Henley

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(John Howell) has already mentioned how concerned he is that prison staff do not have time to follow through in flagging up issues that may affect a young individual. There is insufficient time to escort inmates to and from the classes and programmes on offer.

Instead, long periods of lock-up and inactivity lead to increasing frustration, making violence more likely. The Government proclaim that they recognise the importance of rehabilitation. If what I have been saying sounds familiar, it is because Labour has long said that prisons should be measured by their success on rehabilitation, and our manifesto at the general election stressed the importance of increasing the amount of time prisoners spend learning and working. Nowhere is that more important than in youth justice, where young lives can be turned around, with the right intervention.

Kelly Tolhurst: Does the hon. Lady agree that some of the young people who arrive at these institutions are there only for short periods, depending on the challenges that they have had before arriving at the centre, and that we should perhaps consider what happened to them before they arrived at the centre or the unit? In some cases, the young people are there for just a short period, and finding the opportunity to complete a really good rehabilitation is sometimes a challenge.

Christina Rees: I agree. I think a partnership approach is needed. The hon. Lady spoke about the local authority in her constituency and its important role in youth rehabilitation and the care of children. The whole approach must be one of across-the-board partnership. I agree that sometimes a short time in prison does not allow for any beneficial turnaround.

Jo Stevens: On that point, taking preventive measures was one of the recommendations in the Harris report about how to stop young people going into custody in the first place. Perhaps my hon. Friend will ask the Minister how many of the Harris recommendations have been implemented.

Christina Rees: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention.

The Government must understand that a fundamentally different approach to youth justice and custody is needed. Young people and children need to be supported and helped. The idea that young offenders should be punished, locked away and forgotten about or, worse, mistreated, is morally reprehensible and entirely counter-productive. However, just months ago, the Chancellor announced cuts of £9 million to the Youth Justice Board, despite warnings from the Local Government Association, the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services that that would lead to an increase in the number of young people in custody. Coincidentally, the £9 million that is being taken away almost exactly matches the amount that the Government have wasted on a failed procurement process to outsource fine collection—a clear case of misplaced priorities and ideology taking precedence over sound, evidence-based policy making.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 states that the principle aim of the youth justice system is the prevention of reoffending. However, currently two thirds of offenders

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under the age of 18 reoffend within a year of release. Behind every one of those figures is a victim, or victims, of crime. How can young people be rehabilitated when there are so many failings within the youth justice system —when it is not even a safe environment for them?

The media reports of what happened at Medway clearly demonstrate a deeper crisis in our youth custody system. Government cuts and a refusal to address the issues properly are creating a perfect storm of overcrowding, understaffing and poor resources. First and foremost, we urge immediate action to put all G4S-run prisons, secure training centres and detention centres into special measures so that the safety and competence of each facility can be urgently assessed.

The Government have the power, under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, to intervene in contracted-out STCs. Therefore, as we outlined in our recent letter to the Secretary of State, we urge the Minister to put in management teams alongside existing staff at those facilities—teams with experience of working with vulnerable children. The reforms to youth justice made by a Labour Government, requiring agencies to collaborate in preventing youth offending, reduced both youth crime and the numbers of young people in prison. We would further extend that model by piloting a new approach for 18 to 20-year-old offenders. That would incentivise local authorities, the police and the probation services to work together, to identify those at risk of engaging in criminal activity and to divert them on to a more constructive path.

I want to pose the following questions to the Minister: how many children are currently in Medway STC; and have any been sent there since 30 December? What action did the Ministry of Justice take between 30 December and 8 January? Since 2010, how many times have contract breaches occurred at secure training centres run by G4S under contract with his Department? What was the budget of the Youth Justice Board in 2009-10 and 2014-15; and what is the estimated budget for that body in 2015-16? Has the Minister considered writing to the local safeguarding children board to see whether it will order a serious case review of the allegations regarding abuse at Medway secure training centre? I also remind him of the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) in her intervention.

3.27 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Andrew Selous): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Wilson. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins) on bringing this important debate before the House. She said that complacency is never an option in such matters, and she is absolutely right. I assure her that that is exactly the attitude we have in the Ministry of Justice. We also made the broader point that, if we want people to behave well in custody, we should treat them well. She is absolutely right as far as that is concerned.

The hon. Lady spent quite a lot of her speech talking about “Managing and Minimising Physical Restraint”—understandably, following the shocking revelations we saw in the “Panorama” programme. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons described “Managing and Minimising Physical Restraint” as a significant step forward; but of course we acknowledge that more needs to be done. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that detailed action

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plans are being agreed with individual sites on its implementation, and additional training and support are being provided. We want to get things to a really high standard, and of course it is not good enough just to have good training; we must ensure that the officers on the ground actually implement what they have been trained to do.

The hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees), who spoke for the official Opposition, mentioned the Youth Justice Board budget. The YJB has, as part of general Government savings—as, unfortunately, the country continues to live beyond its means—reduced its administrative expenditure by restructuring to become more efficient; but in doing that, it has been able to focus more resources on monitoring in the youth estate, despite falling numbers of people in youth custody. It is important that that should be on the record.

Jo Stevens: The Minister said there was more monitoring of secure children’s centres in youth custody services. If that is the case, why and how did what we saw at Medway on the “Panorama” programme happen?

Andrew Selous: The hon. Lady asks the central question of the whole debate. I can tell her that I have thought long and hard about it since the “Panorama” revelations. I do not know whether she was in the House for the urgent question when my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice set out in some detail the considerable monitoring arrangements we have. Yet the fact is that they did not detect mistreatment and prevent it from happening. As the Minister responsible for youth justice, I have absolutely fully taken that on board and can assure her we will continue to review seriously how we monitor to ensure we do not find out that terrible things are happening from an investigatory television programme. I will elaborate further during the course of my speech.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell), who is a valued member of the Justice Committee, rightly drew attention to the issue of mental health. I can tell him and other Members who properly drew attention to that issue that a comprehensive health assessment is completed for every young person on arrival in custody. This includes an immediate assessment of needs during the first day or night, followed by a more comprehensive assessment as part of their induction programme. If an alternative placement is deemed appropriate, this will be referred back to the youth justice board placement team for consideration in consultation with healthcare professionals.

I can also tell the House that each site has healthcare teams and in-reach teams that provide appropriate treatment for young people with mental health issues. I get the seriousness and importance of this issue and will continue to work with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure we keep a relentless focus on mental health.

John Howell: When he gets back to the office, will the Minister look at the transfer of people and how often the transfer of the information about their mental health does not actually follow them on time?

Andrew Selous: My hon. Friend raises an important and serious point. Yes, of course I will look into that matter. We have to have a joined-up system as far as health needs are concerned. He makes a valuable point.

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My hon. Friend also made points about young adult provision. I know the Select Committee is looking at that at the moment, but I can tell him that a Government consultation on the management of young adults was paused while the Harris review was completed. This is now being reconsidered as part of our wider prison reform strategy work and alongside the youth justice review, about which I will say more in a few moments.

The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer), who is also an extremely diligent and engaged member of the Justice Committee, asked a general point about the threshold for custody for children. The threshold is high and the courts must state in open court why a youth community sentence with high-intensity supervision and surveillance is not appropriate. I will point out, as have others during this debate, that the under-18 youth custody population has halved in the past five years.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst) for her contribution to the debate. She is not only the local Member of Parliament who represents Medway, but a ward councillor in that area, so she has detailed local knowledge that we all respect. I have had frequent dealings with her since the revelations came to light. I also thank her for praising the vast majority of decent staff who work very hard in a challenging environment. She was right to put that on the record, and I do so as the Minister as well. We will be relentless in dealing with staff who fall below the very high standards that we rightly expect of them and will continue to demand.

I thank the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) for her contribution. She pointed out that my domain as the Minister extends to England and Wales, and not to Scotland, but generally we take a serious interest in what happens in criminal justice matters and in the youth estate north of our border with Scotland. I have spent time with Scottish academics and others trying to learn what we can from the Scottish prison system, so I thank her for her contribution this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Neath, who speaks for the official Opposition, asked me a large number of questions, which I will do my best to answer this afternoon. I will write to her if I do not answer them all—she posed her questions just before my own contribution, so I will not manage to answer all of them. In general, I repeat what the Secretary of State for Justice said during the urgent question:

“the care and supervision of young offenders in custody is not good enough.”—[Official Report, 11 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 573.]

We recognise that. That is why the Secretary of State has commissioned the youth justice review. There will be an interim report in due course and a final report in the summer. It is the right thing to do.

The hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jo Stevens) asked her hon. Friend the Member for Neath to ask me how many of Lord Harris’s recommendations had been implemented. The answer is more than half, but I would ask the hon. Member for Cardiff Central to look at our wider prison reform strategy, more of which will be unveiled over the coming months. She and others will see much in that that speaks to the important points that she and others have raised this afternoon.

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The allegations made by the BBC in the “Panorama” programme on 11 January were profoundly disturbing and have quite rightly generated concern about the safety of young people detained at Medway. Let me put on the record, as the Justice Secretary did, my thanks to the BBC for the work it has undertaken to bring the serious allegations to light, although it should not have taken an investigatory television programme to do so.

We take all allegations about mistreatment of children in custody extremely seriously and make sure that they are swiftly referred to the local area designated child protection officer for immediate action. Although it would be inappropriate for me to comment on specific allegations while the investigation by Kent police and Medway Council is under way, I can assure Members that we place the highest priority on the safety of the children and young people committed to our care in custody.

It may be helpful for me to outline in further detail the action taken since the contents of the “Panorama” investigation were first reported. First, G4S suspended all seven staff members named by the BBC on 30 December 2015 and referred the allegations to Medway Council’s local authority designated officer, who is responsible for overseeing safeguarding concerns about children across the local authority, and to Kent police. G4S has subsequently dismissed five staff members, and three more are suspended.

Kent police and Medway Council’s child protection team have launched an investigation that will determine whether there is any evidence to justify criminal proceedings against anyone involved. Five members of staff have been arrested and bailed while police inquiries continue. It is important that the police are now able to complete a full and thorough investigation into each incident and to pursue all necessary lines of inquiry. I can assure Members that the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board will support and co-operate with their inquiries to the fullest possible extent.

Our immediate priority has been the safety of the young people in custody at Medway. As the Secretary of State indicated in his statement to the House on 11 January, we are meeting Lin Hinnigan, the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, regularly to make sure that all necessary action to ensure the wellbeing of young people at Medway is being taken. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Ofsted also visited Medway on 11 January to meet representatives of G4S, Medway Council and the Youth Justice Board, as well as the children detained there. The findings of HMIP’s report are being considered carefully by the Secretary of State and I.

The YJB, which is responsible for commissioning the youth secure estate, has also taken immediate steps to safeguard the children and young people placed in Medway. It might be helpful for me to outline those steps to the House. The YJB has, with immediate effect, ceased new placements of young people to Medway until further notice—that addresses one of the shadow Minister’s questions. The YJB sought urgent assurance from the G4S director of Medway that the centre had safe staffing levels following the suspension and dismissal of staff. That assurance was received on 31 December and is being kept under review. The YJB has increased both its monitoring activity at the centre and the presence of other of its staff members, including senior managers.

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I am concerned that the allegations were not readily identified by the checks and systems that we already have in place. It is clear that my Department and the YJB need to work together to make sure that monitoring in the youth secure estate is more effective and robust. We expect the highest standards from all the providers who operate the youth secure estate. We expect staff to want to work with children, to have the skills and training to engage with children positively, and to act with professionalism and integrity throughout. We expect our providers’ management teams to rigorously supervise their staff and drive a positive culture throughout their organisations.

Jo Stevens: There will be children in Medway and other secure training centres who are repeat offenders, but it seems to me that the real culprit here is G4S, which is a persistent offender in failing to deliver Government contracts to the required standards. I am concerned about whether G4S should be awarded any further contracts, or should even be bidding, until all the outstanding issues with the company—the Serious Fraud Office inquiry and the investigation into Medway—are resolved. Will the Minister please address that specific point?

Andrew Selous: I hear what the hon. Lady says and, given what has happened, I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. Nevertheless, I repeat what I said earlier: it is important that we allow Medway Council and Kent police to investigate fully what are, at the moment, allegations, albeit extremely serious ones. We should wait for the results before we do anything else.

The YJB has increased the availability of the independent advocacy service provided by Barnardo’s. It will now be available on site six days a week, compared with three days a week previously. All youth offending teams that are responsible for those currently held at Medway secure training centre have been contacted and asked whether they have any concerns about individual children or young people. The YJB will consider, on a case-by-case basis, any specific action that needs to be taken to meet the particular needs of each individual child or young person, including, where appropriate, reviewing their placement at the centre. The YJB has also contacted the families of each child and young person at all three secure training centres to explain the actions we have taken and to give them a contact point at the YJB.

I shall outline the key safeguarding and monitoring arrangements that already exist in secure training centres, which we have now reinforced at Medway in the light of the recent allegations. First, YJB monitors are appointed at all STCs to monitor and report on the performance of the establishment. Monitors will investigate and report on allegations made against custody officers and, where necessary, suspend and revoke custody officers’ certificates to work. Barnardo’s staff are also in place at all STCs to provide independent support and advice to young people through its independent advocacy service. Young people can raise any issues or concerns through either the YJB monitors or the advocacy service provided independently by Barnardo’s. There are clear processes in place that enable staff to raise concerns.

The YJB’s service specifications and commissioning arrangements for the secure estate make it clear to providers that there is an expectation that children’s welfare and safety is paramount when they are in custody. That expectation has been strengthened and reinforced

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in the specifications for new STC contracts and as part of the provision in young offender institutions. All persons in charge of secure establishments have a statutory duty to ensure that their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. They must also participate as a member of their relevant local safeguarding children’s board. In line with statutory safeguarding guidance, each secure establishment must have an annually reviewed safeguarding policy and a member of the senior management team with responsibility for implementation of the policy. The policy should promote safeguarding and wellbeing by covering issues such as child protection, risk of harm, restraint, separation, staff recruitment and information sharing.

Each local authority has a designated officer to whom concerns about children’s safety that arise from the behaviour of adults must be referred. That is in addition to the requirement for those working with children to report to the local authority any concerns about a child they believe to have been harmed or at risk of harm. All safeguarding managers in young offender institutions are expected to attend the Working With Young People in Custody training programme, which includes modules on child protection and safeguarding. The head of safeguarding will be supported by an establishment-based qualified social worker from the local authority.

As many Members know, there is now a higher concentration of violent and high-risk offenders in the youth secure estate who present complex risks and needs. The level of violent incidents remains a concern, and one to which there is no single, simple solution. For that reason, we have in place a wide range of measures to manage safety and stability. That begins with the placement of young people. The YJB actively manages where young people are placed to support custodial providers, who in turn manage their regimes locally to keep children safe. In young offender institutions in particular, we are working to use more mental health support and psychological services to better manage and support those detained. We are also implementing a range of tools for staff to manage conflict more positively and deal with challenging and complex children. All the while, we have a zero-tolerance approach to violence and are seeking to increase children’s engagement in education to give them a greater opportunity of making progress during custody and on release. For example, in young offender institutes we now require 30 hours of education a week, which is a significant increase.

Wayne David: I welcome many of the positive proposals that the Minister is making, but will he give us a commitment that, if it is clearly demonstrated that certain organisations that run STCs are in breach of their duty of care to young children, they will be formally excluded from future bidding processes?

Andrew Selous: As I said earlier, for now, we should wait for the result of the investigation by the local authority and the police. I have already said that we have the power to strike off someone from being a custody officer. We have statutory powers and we are not afraid to use them in pursuit of our serious duties regarding the care of these young people.

The managing and minimising physical restraint policy that I mentioned earlier sets out that robust local governance arrangements should be in place to enable those running

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secure establishments to identify any poor practice. A weekly use-of-force meeting takes place in all establishments using the MMPR policy, and it is regularly attended by a YJB performance manager. During the meeting, which is attended by senior managers in the establishment, along with the YJB, CCTV footage of all incidents is reviewed, anything that happened in the lead-up to an incident is discussed, and any training that might be required to handle incidents better in future can be identified. Those arrangements were already in place at Medway. If there is an incident that warrants referral, we would expect an establishment to refer it to the local area designated officer at the local authority. If that is not done by an establishment, the YJB’s performance managers can make referrals themselves.

As the Secretary of State made clear in his statement on 11 January, it is a matter of record that there have been earlier examples of where G4S has let down the Ministry of Justice and those in our care. But there are also examples of innovative and high-quality institutions run by G4S. I recognise in particular that unacceptable incidents and practices were identified in Ofsted’s inspection of Rainsbrook last year. In that case, the monitoring arrangements in place were effective. The YJB monitor was aware of each of the incidents as they occurred, took the appropriate action and highlighted them to the inspection team. The YJB immediately required G4S to address the issues swiftly and effectively. G4S put in place new leadership, and the YJB agreed an action plan to improve recruitment and training.

I am pleased to tell colleagues that Ofsted’s latest inspection of Rainsbrook shows significant improvement, with improved findings for both safety and care of young people. Although the report identified two serious incidents of staff misconduct since the previous inspection, in both cases, G4S took action and dismissed the members of staff involved before the latest inspection took place.

Jo Stevens: Although the problems at Rainsbrook have been identified and welcome steps have been taken, the Government allowed G4S to renew its contract at Medway. Will the Minister explain why it was allowed to renew that contract when it has a history of problems running a secure training unit at Rainsbrook?

Andrew Selous: There was a competitive bid to run the contract. Ministry of Justice officials, who are wholly independent from Ministers, scrutinised all the bids using set criteria. They demanded higher standards than we currently have in the STCs. We are satisfied that there was a robust, proper, independent and legal process.

Following the re-tendering of the Rainsbrook STC last year, we selected a new provider, MTCnovo, to take over the running of the centre from May 2016. The YJB put in place an enhanced monitoring plan that aims to support G4S to continue to make the required improvements, as well as supporting MTCnovo as it takes over delivery. We are clear that standards must continue to rise before MTCnovo takes over the contract.

Although youth offending has fallen, reoffending rates have remained high, particularly for those leaving youth custody. We acknowledge that violence in custody has risen and that we are dealing with an increasingly challenging cohort of young people in our custody. As I said earlier, there are no simple solutions to that, which

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is why the Secretary of State and I agree that the youth justice system requires reform.

As Members will be aware, we asked Charlie Taylor, the former chief executive of the National College for Teaching and Leadership, to conduct a review of youth justice. He is looking at the evidence and current practice in preventing youth crime and rehabilitating young offenders; how the youth justice system can most effectively interact with wider services for children and young people; and whether the current arrangements are fit for purpose. The review will publish an interim report shortly and conclude this summer.

I recognise and share Members’ concern about the allegations featured in the “Panorama” programme, but hope I have reassured colleagues that young people’s safety and wellbeing will remain central to how we look after young people in custody. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood said, the vast majority of those working in the youth justice system display high levels of professionalism and dedication in working with young people from particularly complex and challenging backgrounds. They are committed to the rehabilitation and support of the young people in their care.

Marie Rimmer: Will the Minister please consider introducing a duty of candour for custodial institutions, as has been introduced in the health service?

Andrew Selous: I am aware that a duty of candour has been introduced in the NHS to good effect, I believe. I commit to look carefully at the lessons learned from its introduction in the NHS to see whether one could be applicable to the youth justice system.

I am clear that the provision of safe, decent and secure environments is an essential foundation for achieving our objectives to protect the public and reduce reoffending. We will continue to challenge the youth justice system to provide the best possible support and the highest levels of care for young people in youth custody.

3.44 pm

Judith Cummins: I thank all Members who spoke in this debate. Their contributions reflect the seriousness and importance of the issue of ensuring the safety of children in custodial institutions. We all acknowledge the need for high professional standards when looking after our children and young people in custodial institutions. I ask the Minister to take very seriously the concerns that were raised about the continuation of G4S’s contract.

When looking at the issue of child safety in our custodial institutions, the concerns about children with complex needs or mental health problems must be looked at in detail and treated appropriately, particularly those pertaining to the issue of restraint in our custodial institutions. It is important that the Minister addresses our concerns about the cuts to the budgets of the Youth Justice Board and local authorities. Thank you, Mr Wilson, for treating me kindly today. I thank all Members present.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered safety in youth custody.

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IVF: Welfare of Women

[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]

3.48 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the welfare of women undergoing IVF treatment.

I want to draw attention to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which is also known as the HFE Act. It contains worrying failures that are endangering women’s lives and long-term health. As a result of the failures, it is time for Parliament to take action to protect the welfare of women undergoing IVF treatment. IVF is a huge industry, estimated to be worth some £500 million, with most treatment taking place in the private sector.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority code of practice, which follows from the 26-year-old HFE Act, rightly requires clinics to take into account the welfare of the child before providing IVF treatment, but the HFEA’s narrow interpretation means that women’s welfare is not considered. IVF treatment works by stimulating the ovaries of a woman to grow multiple follicles through the use of a drug identical to the natural stimulating hormone called follicle stimulating hormone or FSH. In turn, the growth of such follicles causes a rise in oestrogen in a woman’s bloodstream.

However, if levels become too high, there can be a profound and adverse effect on a woman’s health. Indeed, extensive research has shown that the high stimulation given to women during IVF can significantly compromise their health. The most common adverse effect following the use of such hormones during IVF is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome or OHSS, which can be mild, moderate or severe. Mild OHSS can occur in up to 33% of IVF cycles, while 3% to 8% of IVF cycles are complicated by moderate to severe OHSS. Women with severe OHSS are hospitalised, some in intensive care, needing intravenous infusions and drugs to save their lives. In its most severe form, OHSS can be fatal and women have died in the UK as a result of the complication.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): Given the serious health risks that can arise from women being treated with too much hormone medication during IVF, does my hon. Friend agree that the HFEA must collect and publish information on the type and amount of drugs given to women so that they can make a more informed choice about the treatment they may receive?

Siobhain McDonagh: I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. Friend and hope to expand on that point in my speech.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): I thought I would get an intervention in while the hon. Lady was in the mood for taking them. I appreciate that she is talking about women who are going through IVF, but has she considered the health effects on women who want IVF but are prevented from doing so due to their age?

Siobhain McDonagh: I have no comments in my speech that address the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about age and effectiveness. I mostly want to ask the Minister,

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and through her the Department of Health, to consider how figures are recorded, what the practice is and how we can improve on what is now a 26-year-old Act.

It goes without saying that OHSS has a huge emotional cost to women and a huge financial cost to the NHS, but it is preventable. It is widely known that there are modern OHSS-free protocols that can entirely prevent the syndrome from manifesting, but they are underused. In a 2011 article in The BMJ, authors Bewley and Braude reported on women’s deaths as a result of the complications around IVF treatment. The article states:

“The last Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Death recorded four deaths directly related to IVF via ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome and three deaths related to multiple pregnancy after IVF. Thus, more deaths were related to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome than to abortion…despite many fewer procedures (for example, 48,829 IVF cycles v 198,500 abortions were performed in the UK in 2007). IVF associated maternal deaths may be underestimates, because record linkage is not allowed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act”.

The article worryingly concludes that:

“infertility treatment now poses a higher risk for maternal death.”

Despite the potentially fatal risks to the health of women going through IVF, there is little accurate or complete information regarding the incidence of OHSS. Instead, the HFEA records it only via a flawed self-reporting system. In practice, that means that clinics must indicate when a patient has been admitted to hospital with severe OHSS when it is entirely induced by their IVF treatment, but that system of self-reporting is inadequate, for obvious reasons. The HFEA’s own data suggest that there is gross under-reporting of the condition.

We know that the number of eggs collected is a predictor of OHSS. The collection of more than fifteen eggs significantly increases the risk of OHSS, without improving the live birth rate. Bearing that in mind, over the first half of 2013, there were over 1,700 IVF cycles in which more than 20 eggs were collected—cycles that therefore posed an increased risk of OHSS. Yet, that same year, only 46 cases of severe OHSS were reported. Between 2010 and 2012, only 60 cases of severe OHSS and 150 cases of moderate OHSS were reported. During the same period, however, there were more than 3,000 IVF cycles in which more than 20 eggs were collected per cycle. Those examples demonstrate the worrying, and dangerous, trend of under-reporting. We also know that the stimulation dose given in IVF is negatively correlated to live birth. In other words, the higher the stimulation, the lower the rate of live births. Research has also shown that a high number of eggs collected increases rates of prematurity and low birth weight in babies. The risks are clear when considering how many cycles feature high stimulation and high numbers of eggs collected.

The HFEA database demonstrates that, between 2008 and 2013, more than 20 eggs were collected per egg collection procedure in more than 18,000 IVF cycles, more than 30 eggs were collected in 2,285 IVF cycles, and more than 40 eggs were collected in 313 IVF cycles. It cannot be stressed enough that those figures show a very worrying trend in IVF treatment in the UK, potentially placing women in real, and avoidable, danger. The evidence also demonstrates the pressing need for a change in legislation and for reliable data to be collected by an empowered regulator.

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Furthermore, research from last year has observed an increased risk of ovarian cancer among women undergoing IVF in the UK compared with national averages. That was based on the HFEA database of more than a quarter of a million women who have received IVF treatment between 1991 and 2010. Similarly, a large Dutch study from 2011 of 20,000 women who had received IVF treatment concluded that ovarian stimulation for IVF may increase the risk of ovarian malignancies, especially borderline tumours. The link between ovarian cancer and IVF treatment, as well as the many health risks I have outlined, so obviously justifies the collection of reliable data by the HFEA.

As if the risks were not enough, several clinics are using a cocktail of drugs off-label in a manner for which they were not intended. It is most common in the use of drugs and intravenous infusions during IVF treatment and pregnancy that affect a woman’s immune system. However, they are often used without any supporting scientific evidence, posing significant risks to women. Both the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists and the US Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings about the use of drugs off-label. The HFEA, while stating on its website that there is no evidence to support such practice, has admitted that it has no powers to stop it from happening despite being aware of the considerable potential harm posed to women. That clearly needs to change.

Despite the potential threat to women’s safety, the HFEA states that it does not have the statutory authority to take action in the so-called areas of clinical judgment and drug administration. Indeed, in relation to the HFEA’s limited response on the incidence of

OHSS, the Minister stated the following:

“They have no express powers concerning the administration of drugs, which is a matter of clinical judgment. Although the HFEA does not collect data about the overall incidence of OHSS, clinics are asked to report when a cycle has been abandoned because of risk of OHSS. Severe OHSS is treated as an incident and depending on the nature of incident and the patient outcome, the HFEA will either expect an incident report or conduct an incident review itself”.

Given the severity of the risk to women that I have outlined, however, that response is clearly inadequate.

Considering the evidence, the absence of comprehensive data collection seems to be the result of a bizarre regulatory remit. That limited remit seems to see the safety of women as secondary. The McCracken review into the HFEA, the recommendations of which were entirely accepted by the Government, argued that the balance of HFEA activities was unacceptable. Recommendation 10 stated:

“The HFEA should conduct a review of the balance of its regulatory focus to ensure that it reflects the relative risks of the different activities that it oversees. Its approach should reflect the relative maturity of the sector it regulates…the need to ensure appropriate oversight of technical developments in the field of ART”—

assisted reproductive technology—

“the need to ensure that appropriate standards of practice are implemented consistently throughout the sector, and the continuing need for a high degree of public assurance regarding the sensitive activities that it oversees. This should not lead to any overall increase in regulatory activity or cost, but a rebalancing of activity.”

Further, as part of the preface to the recommendation, McCracken stated:

“Similarly where there are well known side effects of ART techniques, such as…OHSS…the HFEA should make sure that

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appropriate standards in managing them are being adopted across the sector...It is worth noting here that the work that the HFEA led in reducing multiple births, the ‘One at a Time’ project, is universally praised and may provide a model for addressing some of these other topics.”

To reiterate, the report states that reviewing the HFEA remit should not lead to an increase in regulatory activity or cost, but simply a rebalancing of its activity. However, the HFEA has not taken any specific action on OHSS or on the other interventions so desperately needed. That is why we need Parliament to act.

What can be done? I have a number of recommendations that I hope the Minister will be able to implement to address the risk to women’s health. First, an explicit commitment to the protection of the welfare of women urgently needs to be added to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 in order to give powers to the HFEA to regulate and monitor drug administration to safeguard the short and long-term health and welfare of women undergoing IVF.

Secondly, the HFEA must immediately start collecting information about all drugs, dosages—whether daily or cumulative—and off-label drugs administered to women during IVF treatment and pregnancy. The HFEA already collects extensive data about embryos, including the use of consumables or culture medium. In other words, what is administered to eggs, sperm and embryos is regarded as of primary importance, but what is administered to women is deemed to be of limited importance. We urgently need to redress that imbalance. Adequate information is desperately needed to gauge the adverse effects of the drugs on gametes and embryos, and to assess their threat to women’s health. Those data are already collected in the USA, Australia and across Europe. It is about time the UK followed suit.

Thirdly, the HFEA should introduce a campaign and licence condition expressly focused on reducing the incidence of OHSS, which can be fatal. That could be modelled on the HFEA’s successful multiple births minimisation strategy.

Finally, the HFE Act should be amended to link the HFEA registry with the hospital, cancer and death registries. That would allow accurate recording and publication of the links between IVF treatment and incidence of severe OHSS, cancer and mortality among women. The HFE Act has typically used patient confidentiality as a reason to have a hands-off approach to collecting important information. Links between IVF treatment and such incidences, however, have already been established in other developed nations by using such data. I am sure the Minister will agree that the more we understand such links, the more we can do to prevent unnecessary harm to women.

We urgently need a regulatory body that has the powers to monitor drug administration during IVF treatment, and to take action where needed to protect the welfare of women. We need to have adequate information to assess the safety of fertility treatments. Indeed, it seems absurd to have a regulator that is dedicated to licensing and monitoring clinics that carry out IVF, but that is unable to take action because it lacks statutory authority.

According to the McCracken report, such changes can be cost-neutral, and the HFEA has already achieved success in other areas. By including the welfare-of-women

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protection in the HFE Act, alongside the “welfare of any child”, we can finally act on the issue. By doing so, Government can oversee the collection of information about drugs administered to women during IVF treatment and pregnancy. What I am calling for is not unusual elsewhere in the world, and such systems of data collection are prevalent in so many developed countries. Changing the Act will also enable the HFEA to implement fully the recommendations of the McCracken report, in particular that

“appropriate standards in managing…are…adopted across the sector.”

That should include the use of modern OHSS-free protocols that prevent the incidence of potentially fatal OHSS.

Patients undergoing IVF treatment are often vulnerable, forced into paying for treatment themselves, and they desperately need someone to protect them. As more and more people use IVF treatment, the issue is no longer one for only a minority. It is time to give the safety of women the recognition that it desperately deserves in the Act. Let us not sit back and allow another woman to suffer or die unnecessarily during IVF treatment.

In the HFEA, we have a body dedicated to regulating IVF. Let us give it the tools to fulfil its duty. Twenty-six years since its creation, it is time to maintain what is good about the HFE Act and to reform what is inadequate. I hope the Minister will recognise the opportunity for the Government to pioneer a new chapter in the young history of IVF treatment.

4.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan.

I thank the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) for raising this important subject for debate. I will take the opportunity to offer, I hope, some assurance to interested Members about what is being done to safeguard women’s health in the area.

IVF has been an amazing gift for millions of people throughout the world, bringing the joy of a child to those who would otherwise not have been able to have one. The treatment was a groundbreaking one that we can be proud to say was invented and developed in the United Kingdom.

Recognising the special ethical approach needed for the creation of human life, the Government introduced the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990 to bring a strong legislative framework to the provision of fertility treatments, establishing the HFEA as the specialist regulator. That legislation was supplemented by a review and amendments in 2008, providing a legislative settlement agreed by Parliament, and it has served the United Kingdom well since then.

The hon. Lady eloquently outlined the effects of OHSS, which is a well recognised side effect of the use of ovarian stimulatory drugs. In its most severe form, it can be fatal for the patient if not treated, although thankfully that is rare. There are more than 60,000 cycles of IVF each year, with between 150 and 200 instances of what would be regarded as more serious incidents, known as grade A and grade B. That represents about 0.33% of all cycles.

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4.18 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.30 pm

On resuming

Sir Alan Meale (in the Chair): The debate may continue until 4.42 pm but could conclude before then if circumstances permit.

Jane Ellison: If the debate has to conclude early, which would be a great shame, I shall certainly undertake to write in detail to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, to respond to the various points she made in her speech.

As I was saying, thankfully, very severe incidents for women undergoing IVF are very rare. There are more than 60,000 cycles of IVF each year, and around 150 to 200 instances of what would be regarded as more serious incidents. That represents 0.33% of all cycles. To put that in context, in 2013-14, there were four grade A incidents that involved a serious threat to health, while in 2012-13 there were none. It is helpful to explain that.

It would also be helpful for me to put on the record that ovarian stimulatory drugs are generally self-administered after being prescribed, and each patient is given instruction from the clinic with appropriate warnings about side effect symptoms to be aware of. Patients are monitored at the clinic through regular ultrasound scans and blood tests to check how the ovarian stimulation is progressing and to look out for any signs of OHSS.

I note the suggestion from the hon. Lady about amending the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 to require the UK regulator to collect data on the dosage of drugs prescribed to women during fertility treatment and birth rates and information on any adverse outcomes for the patient. That proposal would also place a duty on all fertility clinics to consider the welfare of women proposing to undergo these treatments. It is important to put on the record that drug dosage levels do not determine the risk to individual women of OHSS. Patients react differently and individually to the same dosage levels, so it is not possible to identify those who may be at the highest risk of an adverse reaction.

In response to the suggestions made, I want to stress that all clinicians have a general duty to consider the welfare of patients when deciding whether it is appropriate to offer any treatment service. The 1990 Act also requires that same assessment to be made of any child born as a result of fertility treatment and any existing children who might be affected by it.

The prescription of stimulatory drugs is not an activity regulated by the HFE Act 1990, as amended, or by the HFEA. Prescribing is a matter for clinical judgment, taking account of professional guidance, of which there is a considerable amount, and the individual circumstances of the patient. All patients who undergo ovarian stimulation as part of their IVF treatment are given information on the symptoms to look out for and are advised to contact clinics immediately if they suspect they may be developing the condition. That includes being given contact details for out-of-hours arrangements, so that they can report immediately. In addition, it is a requirement under the 1990 Act that a woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless she has been provided with

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information relevant to the treatment, including the potential side effects, and a suitable opportunity to receive counselling about the implications.

Although the HFEA does not collect data about the overall incidence of OHSS, clinics are asked to report treatment cycles to the HFEA where a cycle has been abandoned due to there being a risk of the patient developing OHSS. All severe cases of OHSS must be reported to the HFEA as a serious adverse incident. Depending on the nature of the incident and the patient outcome, the HFEA will either expect an incident report from the clinic or will conduct an incident review itself. The HFEA publishes a detailed annual analysis of the data it receives, and information is also available on the HFEA’s website on outcome rates for each clinic, including information on live birth rates as a percentage of embryo transfers.

I reiterate that the administration of drugs is a matter for clinical judgment. The HFEA’s code of practice advises licensed fertility clinics to provide women seeking treatment with information on the likely outcomes of the proposed treatment and the nature and potential risks of that treatment. That includes the risk of children conceived having, for example, developmental defects, as well as the potential side effects and risks for the woman, including OHSS. That requirement is examined as part of the HFEA inspection regime. The HFEA also asks to see a clinic’s OHSS management protocols before a licensed renewal inspection, so it is part of the regulatory process for each clinic.

In its fertility guidelines, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advises clinics that they should inform patients about any potential long-term safety implications associated with IVF. That includes specific reference to limiting the use of ovulation induction or ovarian stimulation agents to the lowest effective dose and duration of use. In addition, the HFEA code of practice sets out the expectation that clinics should follow relevant and appropriate professional guidance in the care of patients, which obviously includes NICE guidance. Clinicians must have the clinical discretion to make decisions about the care of individual patients, taking account of their individual circumstances.

I want to give the hon. Lady assurance about some of the work the HFEA has in the pipeline. In its business plan, the HFEA sets out an intention to increase focus on learning from incidents and adverse events through, for example, publication of a report on clinical incidents between 2010 and 2012; dialogue with the sector about how best to learn from incidents and adverse events; and exploring, with professional groups, whether more data need to be collected to better understand factors contributing to ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, in order to reduce its incidence. That is in the HFEA’s business plan, which is publicly available.

I would like again to thank the hon. Lady for raising this important and complex subject. I understand and appreciate the concerns she rightly has about the possible impact on women’s health of a reaction to stimulatory drugs during the process of fertility treatment and the consequences. However, I believe that the existing UK regulatory system is second to none in its approach to safeguarding women’s health. I am assured that, within its statutory and regulatory remit, the HFEA is taking proportionate action.

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I know that the debate must end here, Sir Alan, so I will write to the hon. Lady with responses to additional points made in her speech.

Question put and agreed to.

4.37 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

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Storm Eva: Local Authority Support

5.12 pm

Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered support for local authorities after Storm Eva.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan, even if it is later than scheduled. The first challenge of debating the flooding that devastated parts of Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire over the Christmas period is that just one Department can respond. In considering what support local authorities will require as they seek to emerge from these difficult times, nothing short of co-operation from almost every single Department will be sufficient. In calling on the Department for Communities and Local Government to hear the challenges that we face, I hope the Minister will be working with his colleagues across Government to respond as comprehensively as possible.

For the purpose of today’s debate, I am representing Calderdale Council, which includes both my constituency of Halifax and the neighbouring Calder Valley constituency. Areas around the Dean Clough Mills complex in Halifax town centre, and particularly Sowerby Bridge and Copley in my patch, were devastated by the floods on Boxing day in weather that had not been seen in living memory. However, the devastation further down the valley in Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge, with further damage in Elland, Todmorden and Brighouse, has put Calderdale Council under unprecedented pressure of a primarily financial nature.

I attended a transport working group meeting at Halifax town hall on Friday with my friend, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker). The chief officer for highways and engineering, John Lamb, who is doing a fantastic job, described the River Calder as having become “weaponised” over Boxing day, picking up everything in its path and using it to smash its way through the valley, taking on the bridges, roads, homes and businesses in its path.

To give Members a quick overview and to demonstrate the breadth of the range of problems, 2,781 residential properties and 1,635 businesses have been affected by Storm Eva in Calderdale. Nine electrical substations were flooded, resulting in widespread power outages, with some properties without electricity for four days. Eight schools across the district were damaged, and at least two of them will be closed for a prolonged period. The police station in Sowerby Bridge and the fire station in Mytholmroyd were flooded, and general practitioners’ surgeries, Sowerby Bridge leisure centre, libraries and Sure Start centres along the river all sustained damage.

With that in mind, I hope the Chair and the hon. Member for Calder Valley will grant me the freedom to speak about the needs of the local authority as a whole, taking into account the challenges facing our constituents, who will traverse both constituencies on an almost daily basis. I start by thanking the Government for their announcement earlier this week that £5.5 million will be made available for the rebuilding of Elland bridge. Having to rewrite this speech in the wake of that good news was a welcome inconvenience. The floods envoy, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon.

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Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), hit the nail on the head when he said during the announcement:

“A good local transport system is the lifeblood of the region, and key to a thriving economy.”

As the Minister may already know, the communications network that crosses Elland bridge is essential to businesses in the area, so discussion now moves from funding to the speed with which we can get it back up and running. Partly due to the bridge’s status as a grade II listed building, it is estimated that a replacement bridge will not be in place until December 2016.

Elland bridge will not be the only damaged structure with listed building status. Although, as a history graduate, I appreciate the significance of listed buildings in principle, where a listed structure is no longer fit for its intended purpose and, conversely, presents a danger to the public, what power do the Government have to work with Historic England to consider lifting that status, thereby giving local authorities, or in this instance, the Canal & River Trust, the greatest range of options for reconnecting communities as quickly as possible? I hope the Minister will consider looking into that.

Although the £5.5 million for Elland bridge is extremely welcome, new problems resulting from the flooding are arising on an almost daily basis, which is increasingly worrying. New landslips are compounding the existing damage. The combined cost of damage to infrastructure as a result of that weaponised river and the broader impact of Storm Eva—just to be clear, this excludes the money allocated for Elland bridge—is now in the region of £18.5 million. I am not saying that for impact or effect, and I am not rounding up. That is what we are facing in the cost of highways alone, and it is financially terrifying. I hope the Minister recognises that Calderdale Council will need support to cope with the scale of damage to infrastructure and that constructive dialogue on how to do that will follow today’s debate.

On where some of that money might come from, like many of my colleagues and constituents, I am confused as to why the Government have not yet applied to the EU solidarity fund for financial support. The Prime Minister said that he had looked carefully at the question of EU funding but decided that it was “quicker and better” to give the people the help they need from our own resources. Although it is a relief that we must have the resources to meet the financial challenges that I have just outlined, I ask the Government to think again and apply for the solidarity fund. There may be strings attached to that funding, but the Government have failed so far to give a credible answer as to why they have sent that opportunity begging. Will the Minister ask the Prime Minister to think again for the benefit of all those who stand to gain from tapping into that fund?

I visited several businesses in Sowerby Bridge immediately after the floods. Some are big employers in my constituency that have never flooded before, but the cost and devastation caused by flooding just once means that they are thinking long and hard about whether they want to rebuild in the same premises or to leave the valley altogether. I met small and medium-sized enterprises that had struggled to find affordable insurance due to their proximity to the river. At least one of the bigger businesses that I visited had business interruption insurance, but it is

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anxious about whether that same protection would still be available at an affordable price if it were to rebuild in the same location.

I mentioned in the recent floods debate in the main Chamber that Pulman Steel, a business in Sowerby Bridge that was visited by the Chancellor twice in the run-up to the 2010 and 2015 general elections, is faced with completely refitting its factory, and it is battling to be up and trading at full strength as soon as possible. I have written to the Chancellor inviting him on a return visit to Pulman Steel. He will be aware that Pulman Steel is a supplier to a number of key northern powerhouse infrastructure projects, so it is of strategic importance to the north and beyond that it is up and running. I ask the Chancellor to put his high-vis and his hard hat back on and to come and discuss with Pulman Steel how its situation has changed and what his team could be doing to support it as a key player in our local economy.

A shot-blasting company at Lee Bridge in Halifax and its neighbours were flooded three times in four weeks over the Christmas period due to a complicated culvert system that runs underneath the small industrial estate. Calderdale Council has identified that 800 businesses, which employ 4,588 people, will need financial support following the floods. The grants of £2,500 from Government funding are going out to businesses and are making a difference, but businesses such as the ones I have mentioned need specialist business support—they need not only cash but expertise. They face dilemmas around how to hold on to customers while they deal with the impact of the floods, or around how to remain competitive when they are faced with increased insurance bills, or quite simply around how to keep trading when the back wall of their premises and half their stock have ended up in the River Calder, as was sadly the case at some of the businesses that I saw at Tenterfields business park.

The local authority can provide some of that support, but I am here to echo Calderdale Council’s request to the Government that staff from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills get out to flood-affected areas and work with the local enterprise partnerships to bolster the specialist business support that could make such a big difference. I hope the Minister is in a position to give us assurances today that he will work with his colleagues in DBIS to send those delegations out from our central offices and to get experts’ boots on the ground, where they are most needed.

Everyone in this room will also appreciate that we cannot talk about business support without pressing for affordable insurance. The Federation of Small Businesses has carried out research that suggests that 75,000 smaller businesses at risk of flooding had found it difficult to find flood insurance, and that 50,000 had been refused cover.

Later this year, Flood Re is set to provide access to affordable insurance for around 350,000 households. Whether it is through an extension of Flood Re or through an alternative scheme, we must look long and hard at how we can offer the same protections to businesses that we have been able to offer to residents. The Association of British Insurers does not believe that extending Flood Re to businesses would be the answer. However we do it, we must find a way of delivering affordable protection, and I hope the Minister might be able to update hon. Members about any progress that has been made in that regard.

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I appreciate that the issue of flood defences has one foot firmly in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but in this instance I believe that the other foot is firmly in the Department for Communities and Local Government. In an article written by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that was published in the Yorkshire Post on 30 December, she suggested that £280 million in Government funds will allow flood prevention schemes to go ahead in a number of areas, including Calderdale. Calderdale Council and the Environment Agency have worked closely together to identify which schemes would be required and where. Under the current funding formula, however, once the maximum Government contribution has met the maximum possible funds available from the local authority and any other funding streams, there is still a £15 million shortfall in delivering those projects.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): Of course, the flood defence formula that we are dealing with is the one that was changed just before 2010, and it causes particular problems for many people in our area across Yorkshire and the Humber, and particularly for a number of houses. I make that point not to be political—both Governments have operated under it. Does she agree that we need a root-and-branch review of the whole formula because it does not work in the way that people hoped it would, and are now ending up with situations in which schemes will not be funded because they do not have match funding?

Holly Lynch: The hon. Gentleman might be right. Actually, what we have got to look at is those schemes that were in place and how much they were going to cost. Will they work? Will they be effective in the light of the new models and the damage that we have seen this time? What would the cost of those schemes be, and how do we consider meeting that cost from Government and local authority funding?

I know that at least one scheme in particular would benefit the shot-blasting business that I mentioned, which sits directly above the culvert at Lee Bridge, and so I plead with the Minister to speak to his colleagues at DEFRA to seek clarity on behalf of the local authority, so that work can begin on those schemes—where they are now appropriate—without delay.

On a very pragmatic note, a proposal that I do not believe would cost a great deal at all is a national floods conference. It would be a meeting for all the affected local authorities to come together to discuss their experiences with the Government, but more importantly with one another. They could share best practice, and examine what worked and what did not work in terms of both flood defences and the emergency response to the flooding.

I genuinely believe that Calderdale Council responded as quickly and efficiently as was possible, but I hear from other hon. Members that they did not necessarily have the same experience with their local authorities. Further down the valley from Halifax in Hebden Bridge, there is a volunteer flood warden scheme, for example. Flood wardens have not been necessary in my constituency before now, but I am keen to explore this possibility, which may also be useful to other areas. What training have those wardens in Hebden Bridge had and how did

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the local authority mobilise them over the Christmas period? Would Calderdale benefit from more emergency planning? Do other local authorities, in Cumbria for example, already have emergency plans in place?

If there are examples of best practice that can be shared and lessons that can be learned following Storm Eva—and following Storms Desmond and Frank, for that matter—will DCLG consider organising such a national conference sooner rather than later, so that we can all learn from these recent experiences as we start to plan for the future?

Andrew Percy: I thank the hon. Member for giving way again, precisely because my area floods so consistently. Does she agree that one thing we should consider is organising from the bottom up rather than from the top down, through local parish councils where they exist? In my area, many of the parish councils now have emergency plans—they have been provided with funding from the local authorities to develop those plans. Actually, it was the people on those councils who, after every flooding incident we had, were the people out there on the ground. They have the connections into the local authority and the Environment Agency. That model exists already and we need to spread it across the country. That bottom-up approach, through parish councils, emergency plans and emergency committees, can be really effective.

Holly Lynch: I completely appreciate that intervention and those local schemes are very effective. For example, in my constituency—I am not aware of what the hon. Gentleman is doing in his constituency—such schemes might be effective, and that is why some oversight and some co-ordination might be helpful to get them off the ground. That is all I will say on that.

Finally, I return to the issue of volunteers and the at-times heroic efforts of local council officers and the emergency services. It was overwhelming to see the number of volunteers who came out to help following the worst of the rains on Boxing day. Ordinary people—most of them from the local area, but some from much further afield—came to play their part in the clean-up. The staggering generosity and compassion of those volunteers, who gave up time over the Christmas period that would otherwise have been spent with family and friends, allowed us to make a great deal of progress in the hours and days immediately after the floods. Volunteers took the lead on cleaning up the streets, and on helping homeowners and businesses with the removal of ruined and contaminated goods and furniture, which freed up council officers to deal with the most serious incidents. The depth of the community spirit that got us through the worst was staggering.

There were also acts of outstanding bravery from our emergency services, who worked around the clock to remove people from harm’s way. A local authority cabinet member told me this week that she had taken car keys from a council officer who had worked for almost four days straight with barely any sleep and called him a taxi, because she was worried that he was too exhausted to drive himself home. That is not an exceptional case. Council officers and staff came in to work over the Christmas period without a moment’s hesitation.

Will the Minister consider recognising outstanding contributions where local authority staff went over and above and served with distinction? Will he ask his

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colleagues at the Home Office to extend the same recognition to the emergency services and the volunteers who gave so much to their communities in what were desperate times? I appreciate that more could be done locally to recognise key individuals and key contributions.

I could go on, but I am aware that several hon. Members want to put their “asks” to the Minister. I will leave it there and I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and the Minister’s response.

Several hon. Members rose

Sir Alan Meale (in the Chair): Order. Before we proceed, I advise Members that we will have Back-Bench Members’ contributions until about 5.48 pm. We can continue to 6.12 pm because of the delays that preceded this debate, and I intend to call the Front-Benchers to make their winding-up speeches from about 5.48 pm. You can all do the mathematics in that, and could you please try to be succinct to give proper leeway to the mover of the motion at the end of the debate, so that she can have a minute just to speak about how the debate has gone?

5.28 pm

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Thank you, Sir Alan, for calling me to speak. As always it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship.

I thank the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for securing the debate on a subject that has affected both of our constituencies on a horrendous scale. In total, 2,700 homes and 1,635 businesses were flooded; three bridges are down; four schools were affected; there was a landslide that affected 17 homes, and a school was closed as a result; and there was major damage to vital roads and other infrastructure all over Calder Valley and indeed all over Calderdale. So far, the bill for the infrastructure damage alone is in excess of £20 million, which is massive, and that is not to mention the pain and misery suffered by many of our constituents.

The Government response to date has been rapid and welcome: a £12 million package for households and businesses to help with initial costs; Bellwin at 100%; and, as has already been mentioned, £5.5 million for Elland bridge, which is in Calder Valley. We have also had £2 million in match funding, which I know has been welcomed by a lot of people locally.

As my neighbour, the hon. Member for Halifax, has already said, we need further help, but I will not go over the ground that has already been covered. Instead, I will raise two main points on relieving pressure on local authorities. First, insurance is a problem for most people in businesses. We know Flood Re takes effect from April. Sadly, it will not help homes that could not get insurance this time before the floods, but it will in future. The major issue is that Flood Re does not include businesses. So many of my well established businesses, despite paying for flood insurance, in some cases for decades, are now finding that they have not been covered for flooding. The results are catastrophic for many. It will mean many businesses in Calder Valley will not reopen, and many jobs and much expertise will be lost.

In reply to a question a couple of weeks ago during Question Time, the Prime Minister said that the insurance industry says all businesses will be offered insurance. That may be the case in some instances, but it is not the case for many.

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Those that were offered insurance saw phenomenal premiums with equally high excesses. A local sandwich shop was offered insurance for £10,000 with a £10,000 excess. A local factory owner was offered insurance, but with a £30,000 excess for flooding. A world-renowned British furniture manufacturer in Mytholmroyd was insured for stock but not equipment, and lost more than £600,000. Christmas orders were massive, but there were no facilities to fulfil those orders.

A destination retailer lost £650,000. A fireplace manufacturer and retailer, offered no option of insurance, is facing ruin. A major supplier of coir mats to supermarkets and hardware stores all over Europe lost all its stock. It had no insurance; no stock to supply ongoing; penalty charges for non-delivery; and it is tied into its current lease for three years. If those businesses manage to get up and running again, they face no prospect of being able to get insurance and no prospect of getting out of leases to relocate. If they do relocate, our local valley bottom towns will die: places such as Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd and Elland. We need our businesses to stay to feed our local economies and keep the skill set that has grown up with these businesses over decades and generations.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. He is absolutely right to focus on business insurance and the problems that local businesses face. However, is it not also true that many businesses have not been flooded, but are hugely affected because the wider regional economy is affected? Is it not right that we send out a clear message that Yorkshire is open for business? My area and that of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) are certainly open for business, and I know that my hon. Friend’s constituency is definitely open for business.

Craig Whittaker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I had a call only this morning from a local farm business—Porcus—that supplies pork sausages far and wide, not only in Calder Valley but in many of the flood areas as well. The business is down 75%, even though it has not been hit by the floods.

We are supporting private homes with Flood Re, but to not support businesses with insurance is criminal. Will the Minister consider urgent talks with the insurance industry and look again at Flood Re—if not Flood Re, something else—to include businesses as well? If no urgent progress can be made, will he look at introducing secondary legislation to force insurers to insure companies for floods at a level that is affordable and fair to all?

As I have said, the pain and suffering of Calder Valley residents over Christmas has been horrendous. To have the possibility of losing their jobs as well as their homes and businesses is a bridge too far—if you can find a bridge in Calder Valley still standing. The situation is dire, and the Government could help in a way that would help far more than a simple cash injection. On behalf of Calder Valley business owners, please, please, please can we sort out their plight with insurance? That would also alleviate many pressures that the local authority is currently picking up on.

My second point—I will be brief—concerns planning and co-ordination. The floods happening on Boxing day meant that many people were at home, and help among communities and neighbours was humbling and

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incredible to see in action. A multitude of agencies and Government Departments were very difficult to contact and get hold of because they were not working, because it was Christmas, or they were on holiday.

Local farmers were saying in November that the moors and hilltops were saturated with water after record rainfalls in November. Some were warning that if we had severe rainfall in December, we would be in trouble, as the only place for water to go when the land up above is saturated is downhill. That is exactly what happened.

It took several days for the recovery to get fully under way because of the lack of agency co-ordination among Yorkshire Water, the Environment Agency, the National Grid, utility companies, including mobile phone providers —we had areas with no phone coverage at all—Calderdale Council, the Canal and River Trust, Network Rail, highways, police, fire, ambulance, the Army, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am sure there are many more.

In areas such as Calder Valley, where we suffer from flooding on a fairly regular basis and where the floods are getting far more frequent and severe—we had floods in 2000, 2007, 2012, and of course recently in 2015—we need one individual or one individual agency to take responsibility on behalf of all agencies, not just to mobilise all agencies as a co-ordinated response, but to flag areas where flooding can be reduced. For example, if Yorkshire Water had released some capacity from reservoirs in November, the flow downhill could have been slowed. The Canal and River Trust could have opened locks at strategic points. The Environment Agency could have warned residents to move cars, for example, in multiple parking areas that were flooded. All that needs co-ordinating through one person or one body. Although it would not have prevented all the flooding, it would have prevented some of it and would have saved millions of pounds’ worth of damage to infrastructure and personal possessions.

To sum up, may we have a serious look at having one person or one body that will be responsible in areas such as Calder Valley for co-ordinating a rapid response from all agencies during disasters like the one we have just experienced, and that will also hopefully help to prevent them on the scale that Calder Valley has just experienced?

5.36 pm

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for securing today’s debate. There have been different experiences, but we are hearing very much from Yorkshire today. Many aspects of the operations in York are to be highly praised—the mountain rescue team, the Army, the public sector workers who gave up their Christmases, and the awesome response from volunteers across the city, mainly co-ordinated through one person, Chelle Holmes, and her Facebook page, “York Floods 2015: Help for the affected”, with its 14,000 members, which put together the operation. That, together with BBC Radio York, became the mainstay of communications.

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Other parts of the operation have been heavily criticised by people on the ground. Much of this has boiled down to communication and co-ordination during the flood period. It has now become clear from a meeting in the city last Friday that the local authority had no plan for the Foss catchment should flooding occur, despite the council’s strategic flood risk assessment highlighting a greater than one-in-10-year risk of the capacity of the River Foss exceeding the capacity of the pumps at the barrier. To give some context, the River Foss is protected from the far larger river, the Ouse, by a sixteen-and-a-half-tonne steel barrier. When flows of the Ouse rise, the barrier is closed to protect the Foss catchment, and eight pumps are switched on to pump up to 30.4 tonnes a second.

The capacity of the water was 35 tonnes a second over Christmas. The pumps could not cope, and water surged up into the pump house, where the power for the pumps and operations for the barrier were. The decision was therefore to switch off the power supply and lift the barrier in the belief that this was the least worst option and could save 1,000 homes. Reports from the Environment Agency going back to 2004 show that there was a risk of this happening. In the 30 years of the barrier, there has been no attempt to raise the level of the electrics, which are at a low level. There was a plan to lift them higher, but planning permission was denied to the agency at the time.

The revelation that there was no plan should the barrier fail and not be able to cope is quite astounding, and it has left people in York angered, upset and certainly with a host of questions that still need answers. I have been inundated with correspondence. I have been going door to door, and I have held a series of community meetings with residents and with business to ensure that we drill down on the issues and raise them, as we now are, with the various agencies.

I want to raise various points about action for the future. The first and perhaps most vital is that I want to see all local authorities having flood plans externally audited. This will ensure that we will have the right support in place at the right time and that local authorities are not left with the burden of marking their own homework. We know that there were certainly some serious flaws in York during the flooding. Vulnerable people, particularly those in an elderly residential complex and an area where Travellers live, saw no one at all from the council. People self-evacuated when the waters rose. There were also difficulties with the sandbag operation—not only were there problems filling them, not enough shovels and not enough personnel to fill them, but there was no distribution plan. That must be addressed.

There were problems with phones even before 45,000 phones went down—an issue that is the subject of a different inquiry. If someone whose home was being flooded called the number that the Environment Agency gave to the council, they got an answer machine message saying that the council was returning to work on the Tuesday morning. That is not good enough. When the phones at the council came back into operation, just four people were answering calls. We need proper plans in place.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I am listening with interest to what my hon. Friend is saying about the response of her local council. In my city, Leeds, the council

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responded to the floods amazingly. Nevertheless, the council is worried about the future and what the additional cuts to its budgets will mean, not only for its day-to-day capacity for things such as keeping gullies clean, but for how it will respond in emergency situations. Does my hon. Friend share those concerns?

Rachael Maskell: Absolutely. Part of the inquiry I am carrying out is about how much cuts to date have affected the resources available to the plethora of agencies involved and how that will be addressed in future, what with further cuts planned, including to the fire and rescue service, which was overstretched over the Christmas period.

People gave up their Christmases, but there was no one to direct them to where they should volunteer. Again, that was a serious problem. I could discuss other issues, such as electrics being switched on in residential council accommodation without sockets being checked and people being denied their £500 despite their properties being flooded. The list is enormous—it is six pages long—but the Minister probably gets the gist: things must be improved. The council has said that it will carry out its own independent investigation. It is incredibly important that it truly is independent, that all questions are asked and that no stone is left unturned.

I want to share some of the other questions and issues that people have raised. We must recognise that the agencies came together and ensured that nobody died, but important questions have been raised. First, the suggestion from my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax that we hold a conference to try to share best practice was excellent. We are learning a lot at the moment, so it is important that we share best practice in a structured way to ensure that local authorities draw on it to respond to communities.

Secondly, I ask the Government to hold an inquiry into the communications failure. Elderly residents who depend on their Lifeline personal alarms were left without any communications at all. I explained earlier the situation with the phones. When phones go down in an emergency, we should be able to switch systems. Even the ambulance service did not have a system to call on. We should be able to switch call centres to enable a continuous response. We must even look at the basics on the ground. Someone with a loud hailer or a siren could have made such a difference to people’s lives.

Thirdly, I very much support the point made by the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) about expediency in responding. We have a local barracks, but we had to wait for a process to be gone through before soldiers were mobilised. It could have been done a lot quicker. I am going to meet Brigadier Strickland to discuss future military involvement.

Fourthly, we have heard about the success of the flood wardens on the ground who were able to bring things together. There is now a real appetite among the community to ensure that flood wardens are part of the future strategy. It is really important to draw on that experience.

Fifthly, there is concern about drainage, which relates back to the point about local authority resourcing. Gullies, drains and ditches must be cleared. Surface water was a factor in the flooding in parts of the city, so we need to ensure that the right resources are in place to

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address it. We must also ensure that drainage and sewage are dealt with appropriately, because Yorkshire Water suffered a breach when its pumps failed and sewage went into the mainstream water supply.

Sixthly, we must ensure that there is better flood literacy. There is an assumption that people know how to address issues appertaining to floods and how to build resilience for the future. We cannot make assumptions in these situations, so it is vital that we ensure that there is proper education around floods—what people need to do, how they should respond and how they can protect themselves for the future.

Holly Lynch: On that point, because volunteers were so enthusiastic—so keen to get involved and help people where they could—there were issues with education and keeping safe volunteers who were almost too keen and were potentially exposing themselves to risk. That is part of the education that might be required for the future.

Rachael Maskell: My hon. Friend makes a very valid point that is true not only for during the flooding, when people are trying to save lives and protect the public, but for the clean-up operation. Clearly, when people are dealing with sewage, they are also dealing with risk. People need to be made aware of the risks and how best to protect themselves.

Seventhly, we have heard very clearly that businesses really do require support. Last Friday I brought together the local chamber of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the local enterprise partnership to discuss how we can support business better at times of flood. It is clear that our city centre, like so many towns and cities, is experiencing a downturn in trade, so it is important that we get more support to local authorities to help with plans to build capacity back into the city.

Rachel Reeves: My hon. Friend mentions the impact on businesses. In my constituency, around 250 small businesses have been affected by the floods, but those businesses employ 2,500 people, most of whom have not been working since Boxing day. That is a real worry. As well as talking about the businesses, we should be mindful of the people who work for them and think about the support we can provide to them, both to regenerate the places where they work and to support them in the interim.

Rachael Maskell: I totally agree.

Finally, I want to raise the issue of personal finances. So many people in my constituency who were flooded could not afford any insurance at all. They just do not have the resources to pay for insurance, and £500 does not stretch far. All I have been told is that they need to draw on charitable sources. We need a more structured approach to support people who, in their poverty, have lost even more.

There are so many things that I could raise; this is just the start. I hope that there will be an opportunity for MPs to gather together to share their intelligence and concerns and to raise issues that they believe could help future operations. As we gather that intelligence, between us we could ensure that sufficient plans are in place to address the need, should such floods occur again. With climate change on its way, there is a high possibility that that could be the case.

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5.47 pm

Calum Kerr (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (SNP): As seems to be in keeping with proceedings in Westminster Hall, this has been an enlightening and constructive debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on kicking it off so perfectly. Her description of the River Calder as becoming weaponised is something I can relate to. I walked through very shallow flood water in Hawick in my constituency and was taken by the sheer power, even of shallow water. The sheer force was incredible, which means all the more credit should go to those who went out and worked for days and nights to try to help people to save properties and businesses throughout the UK. We thank them for their commitment and hard work.

The hon. Lady made a number of excellent points that brought home the incredible damage and range of costs that have resulted from the flooding. I echo her thoughts on the EU solidarity fund. The fact that it might take a while to get the money suggests to me that perhaps they think we will be out of the EU by the time it comes through. I do not care: let us get the money, because it should all help. Everything helps, and every pound is a prisoner nowadays, so absolutely, let us apply and have some benefit from the EU instead of continually complaining about it.

The hon. Lady made an excellent point about Flood Re. I realise that there are some challenges and that we have to be careful, but if there is a will, there is a way, so I am sure we can do something.

Andrew Percy: I sat on the Bill Committee that debated Flood Re, so I can tell the hon. Gentleman that if a business is also a residence, it falls within the scheme. The problem is that Flood Re is paid for by other consumers. Nobody of any party in the Bill Committee tabled an amendment to include businesses, because the cost would be passed on to other consumers. That is the rub.

Calum Kerr: Absolutely. That is a great articulation of the challenges, but as I said, if there is a will, there is a way. Let us look at what schemes we can put in place, even though there will be limitations.

The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) talked about the importance of insurance for businesses. He brought the issue alive with some detailed figures about the impact on businesses. It is easy to talk about things conceptually, but personalised stories enable us to really understand how important this is.

Having a single agency is an interesting idea, but the approach in Scotland is different. Granted, we have a considerably smaller population, but the structure of the agencies is different, so we have an opportunity to share lessons and experiences and learn from one another. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) talked about the importance of learning lessons. Although floods happen too often, thankfully they not happen very often. Whenever they happen and cause people trauma and disruption, we need to look for lessons that we can learn. As the hon. Lady said, we already knew some things from past problems. Let us ensure we do not say the same thing when the next event happens, as it surely will. She came up with a number of great suggestions as a way forward.

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The reality is between December and January—certainly in Scotland—we had the greatest rainfall in the past 100 years of available records, and there were 50 new record river levels across Scotland. We will probably not get used to climate change, but it means that we need to look at how we manage severe weather in the future. Local authorities in Scotland were at the centre of the relief operations. They worked in partnership with the Scottish Government and other agencies to distribute funds and plan for future risk.

In Scotland, the draft budget provided £4 million of extra funding for the local authorities most affected by flooding, including my constituency, which was one of the worst hit. The Scottish Borders Council got nearly £2 million. Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon announced an additional £12 million of funding to help affected areas, including capital funding of up to £5 million for local authorities to replace infrastructure severely damaged by flood waters. An additional £5.8 million has been allocated to households and businesses, including a provision for local authorities to make payments of £1,500 to households, businesses, charities and communities affected by flooding. A flat-rate grant payment of £3,000, which will be funded separately by the Scottish Government, can also be made to businesses to offset clean-up costs.

Earlier this month, I was in Selkirk with the Scottish Environment Minister to launch our first ever flood risk management plan, which includes 14 local strategies. In June, local authority-led partnerships will set out a detailed action plan with details of how that plan will be delivered up to 2021. The Scottish response has been rapid, comprehensive and effective, with partnership and local authority action at its heart, but we still have lessons to learn, and we strive to do so. We recognise that there are severe challenges across the UK. We welcome all UK Government investment in flood prevention, not least because it led to Barnett consequentials, which we gratefully received.

Flooding is not going to go away, so the Scottish Government have prioritised prevention. We need to share best practice across the UK and in the regions and develop a fuller understanding of the issue. The UK and Scottish Governments can and should learn from each other. That is an example of how the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

5.54 pm

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) for securing this important debate. All hon. Members who contributed made excellent points. My hon. Friend made the important point that only one Government Department can respond to this issue. We discussed which Department is the most appropriate to respond, but the responsibility fell to the Department for Communities and Local Government. I will do my best to sum up the debate, and I am sure the Minister will respond in kind.

Hon. Members made several important points. I do not want to repeat what everybody said, because I want to hear what the Minister has to say in answer to them. It is, however, important that we talk about electricity sub-stations, which is an issue that I have raised in the Chamber. We need to do something about our flood

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defences around electricity sub-stations. The major issue in my area was not the flooding, but the power cuts that left 20,000 homes in the borough of Rochdale without electricity for a long time, so the Government must improve flood defences around our power stations.

An important point was made about the listed building status. I would like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on what we should do when a building or structure becomes unfit for purpose. I fully appreciate the problems that my hon. Friend, who is a history graduate, has with that issue. We need to pay a lot of attention to it.

Let us apply for the EU solidarity fund. I do not understand why the Government keep saying, “It’s difficult; it’s a lengthy process.” Prevaricating makes the process even lengthier.

Several Members talked about business support. I fully concur with my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and with the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr). Every Member in the Chamber mentioned business insurance, and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West made a very important point about people who are still out of work because damage to their business has made it unable to operate.

I fully support the idea of getting Department for Business, Innovation and Skills staff to bring their expertise to flooded areas. We have been called on to work with other Departments. It is really important that we use our expertise to advise businesses that are struggling with ruined stock and problems with insurance.

The idea of a national floods conference is excellent. Everyone in the Chamber said that we need to learn lessons and that local councils can learn from best practice. We heard about some brilliant examples of good practice and some not so good examples where there were delays in communication. In York Central, there were problems with the phone lines.

We could spend three hours on this debate, but I will wind up to give the Minister sufficient time to respond. Will he consider the example of the Somerset Rivers Authority? It has been given the power to raise a shadow precept from April 2016, which enables it to raise additional funding for flood risk. Will the Government allow other areas to use a similar mechanism where there is local agreement to do so?

Sir Alan Meale (in the Chair): Before the Minister starts, I want to say that we have had a full and frank debate. Members on both sides have been very kind in being here for the whole of this very serious debate and restricting themselves to making interventions. This is a very difficult subject, and we are grateful for that. I ask the Minister to leave a little time at the end for the mover of the motion to respond to the debate.

6 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (James Wharton): Thank you, Sir Alan. I will of course take that request on board and endeavour to do so. The debate has been constructive, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) on bringing it forward.

Those whose constituents have been affected know just how devastating flooding can be and the impact that it has on individuals, businesses and communities.

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Whether an area has a small number of homes or, as we have sadly seen in some areas during the recent storms, a significant number of homes, that makes little difference to the person or business affected by flooding. We need to look right across all areas to see what we can do to support them now that we have passed through the immediate response phase. We must ensure that recovery starts, that businesses are protected as best we can, that homeowners are given the support that they need, and that we recognise the good response work that so many different agencies, local authorities and volunteers have done. We must do everything that we can to mitigate the flooding’s impact.

December was a record-breaking month for rainfall in some parts of the UK, with exceptional amounts of rain falling on to already saturated ground. Over the weekend of 5 and 6 December, we experienced the highest levels of rainfall ever recorded in a 24-hour period in the UK. Around 7,000 properties were initially reported as flooded. Over Christmas and new year, we experienced more heavy and sustained rainfall, which resulted in widespread flooding across the north of England. At the height of this second incident, 32 severe flood warnings were in place and around 9,000 properties were initially reported as flooded. It has been a major series of incidents and the impact has been significant, as we have heard in hon. Member’s comments today.

We deployed resources and personnel to where they were most needed in what was a fast-moving, complex situation. The multi-agency response to the flooding was rapid, with the army deployed from day one and with assets deployed and money paid out to local authorities in record time. We wanted to ensure that local authorities had the financial support that they needed to respond quickly, and without hesitation and concern as to what would follow. Cobra met 14 times, including daily between Christmas eve and new year’s eve, to assess impacts and to co-ordinate where and how most effectively to deploy further resources from across Government to support affected communities. The Environment Agency, local authorities, fire and police, military personnel, the voluntary sector, utility providers, communities and a range of individuals came together to respond to what was such a significant incident.

I also include in that list many Members of Parliament. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who is in the Chamber, was out in his constituency delivering sandbags to those who needed them during the Christmas recess. He was working hard to look after and protect his constituents and to ensure that they were given every support. Members were not only out doing things on the ground. Many were also talking to Ministers, responders and their local authorities, feeding in what was going well and what they wanted done differently, ensuring that the response was as informed as it could be, so that it could do what was needed to minimise the impact of such a significant weather event.

It is appropriate to put on the record the scale of the response and the scale of what we were responding to. The Government have announced support packages worth around £200 million. Money has been given out in record time. There have been concerted efforts to co-ordinate across Government Departments and agencies. We have seen so many individuals work so hard throughout the period.

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I want to address some of the specific points raised by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Halifax made specific reference to Elland bridge and the welcome £5.5 million for its repair. She asked about its listing and what that means for the repair work. Listed buildings are complex, and it is sometimes difficult to know the right answer. The list of listed buildings is maintained by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and if consideration is to be given to delist a building, it would be done in consultation with Historic England to ensure that it is the right thing to do. If the hon. Lady wants to pursue the matter, I am happy to assist in facilitating that. I do not know what the outcome will be, because we will have to look at the impact and at the bridge’s contribution and consider Historic England’s views, but if she feels that it is an avenue worth pursuing, we should discuss it further.

The hon. Lady and several other hon. Members have asked about the European Union solidarity fund and I want to make the Government’s position absolutely clear. We have not ruled out applying for such funds, but we need to understand what that would mean, what sums of money we are talking about, which incidents are eligible, and what resource would need to be put in to the complex process of applying—it is an incredibly complex fund.

However, we have not yet reached a deadline by which a decision whether to apply would have to be taken, so we are looking to understand the impact across the board to see how it breaks down and what making an application would mean. A decision will be made at the appropriate time as to whether it is the right thing to do. It is true that it takes a long time for such funding to be paid. I believe it is in the region of six to seven months from the date at which we can make an application, which has not yet arrived. It would not therefore provide the immediate relief that many areas are looking for, but if going through that process is the right thing to do, it is of course what we will look to do. We want to understand exactly what it would mean and exactly what sums we are talking about before giving a black or white answer, which some Members may seek, because the picture is not as simple as some—not anyone who has contributed to the debate today—in public discussion have occasionally attempted to present it.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the cases of specific businesses and the level of Government business support. My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker) also referred to several businesses in his constituency about which he has concerns. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has teams located across the country, and our teams covering the north-west, Yorkshire, Humber and the north-east are working closely with local partners on business recovery. Where specific expertise or additional support is needed, I encourage hon. Members to contact me with the details. Our teams can be deployed to try to provide support, advice and guidance, and we will look to direct them to any businesses in Members’ constituencies that have been specifically affected. I am happy not only to take on board the comments that have been made during the debate, but to take something constructive and proactive away from it should hon. Members want to contact me.

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The proposal for a national floods conference has merit—it would be foolish of me to say we would not consider it. At this time, we have to support local authorities with their significant ongoing work dealing with the situation, but in the longer term I see no reason why we would not want to consider such a conference.

Andrew Percy: I agree with the Minister that that is something to consider, but we have been here before, through such lesson-learning exercises—guidance was issued years ago to local authorities about the need for emergency plans. My contribution, which I hope to make in this intervention, is that they are not top-down only. The 2007 event hit my area, as all those other events have, but we are in exactly the same position with resources. The response has to be bottom-up, with strategic sandbag stores in the localities, run by parish council emergency committees, such as the one established in my area, and with local flood warnings. We have to have a bottom-up approach. I commend to him North Lincolnshire and the East Riding of Yorkshire for the funding that they have provided to parish councils to do just that, so that the parish councils are the people who respond to an event.

James Wharton: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that I have shown in many different kinds of debate my support for devolution and for allowing people at the appropriate level to make decisions and to drive forward responses, whether to flooding or in other areas of local government. We have seen some of the lessons learned in the Government response to the events of recent weeks and months. We have seen funding transferred quickly to local authorities, but control over how it is spent has also been devolved to them. They have had much greater flexibility in how they deliver schemes, in how they support local areas and in what they do. We have looked not only to support but to empower local authorities to do what is needed with that £200 million of funding on which I have already commented.

Rachel Reeves: Will the Minister give way?

James Wharton: I will give way, but I then want to make quick progress.

Rachel Reeves: I agree with the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) that a bottom-up approach is needed. Floods are an example of an area in which we have to pool risk and share resources, including for flood defences. In 2011, the Government scrapped the flood defence scheme in Leeds that would have protected the area from the city centre and the train station up to Newlay bridge. Had that scheme been in place, the Boxing day floods would not have had the same devastating impact on Kirkstall. I urge the Minister to take the opportunity to learn the lessons from the floods and to put in place the comprehensive defence schemes necessary if we are to create a northern powerhouse.

James Wharton: I gave way hoping that the constructive nature of our debate would continue, but I fear that we are starting to venture into broader points of a party political nature, which I had hoped we would avoid. In 2005, the Government spent £1.5 billion on flood defences; the coalition Government in the last Parliament spent £1.7 billion; and in this Parliament £2.5 billion is to be spent—a real-terms increase in each consecutive Parliament.

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We need to learn lessons, however, and we need to look at what the areas can do. We need to listen to what local communities understand about their areas and about what has to be done.

Rachel Reeves: Will the Minister give way?

James Wharton: I have given way to the hon. Lady once, but now I must wrap up so that the Member who introduced the debate may conclude it.

It is important that we recognise that MPs from across politics and the areas affected have worked well in and with their communities. Lessons have been learned from what has happened before, and we have seen evidence of those lessons in the route that Government response has taken recently. We ensured that funding got out more quickly and we gave local authorities as much flexibility with it as we could to ensure that they could respond properly. We are continuing that in the nature of the resilience funding that we are providing, which is up to £5,000 per flooded household. Furthermore, only last week at a meeting in Manchester, we gave guidance to local authorities that gave them flexibility on how they will deliver their schemes, because we recognise that different areas need different things.

Hon. Members have raised a number of important issues, some of which I have been able to touch on, including insurance. We need to continue to look, to listen and to learn lessons from what has happened. A lot is being done, but we can always ask, “Can we do more?” My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley wanted a single responsible person, but we have already seen great improvements in how Government respond and bring Departments together. We have seen the appointment of flood envoys by the Prime Minister in response to some of what we have seen happening recently. We always ought to look at where we might go

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further and what else we might do, however, and my hon. Friend’s ideas are valuable.

Julian Sturdy: Will the Minister give way?

James Wharton: I will give way to my hon. Friend, but then I must conclude and allow the hon. Member for Halifax to sum up.

Julian Sturdy: In the spirit of bringing people, Departments and local authorities together, does the Minister not agree that, when we are talking about spending money on flood defences, we have to look at the whole catchment area? That might mean spending money to defend York outside the city in the wider catchment area.

James Wharton: My hon. Friend makes an important point that will of course form part of our considerations. I hope I have been able to answer some of the questions asked by hon. Members. I am always happy to have further discussions and meetings, whether in debates or outside the Chamber. I am conscious that the hon. Member for Halifax who introduced the debate might wish to add a further comment.