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Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman’s description of the macro-economic picture is not as connected to the micro-economic picture as he may assume. According to volunteers at the food bank in my constituency, they have been told that the need for food banks has been caused by the move from benefits to work. People’s weekly benefits stop and their pay cheques come at the end of the month, which is too far away. I fear that the recovery will not reach all parts of the economy unless we make it do so. Can he tell us what we can do to ensure that that happens?

Mr Syms: One of our purposes in introducing universal credit is to make the transition from unemployment to work much easier. The scheme is complicated—we all know that—but I think that it is a worthwhile venture, because anything making employment easier must be a good thing.

Andrew Selous: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Syms: I will not, because my time is limited. I have already taken two interventions.

I am sure that, as the economy recovers, living standards will recover as well, but there is a short-term problem and a long-term problem. The short-term problem is the need for us to recover from the recession, which, as we all know, will take several years. The long-term problem is that, while those in the western world who have benefited from globalisation—particularly people at the higher income scale working in, for instance, financial services—can secure large rewards, many people in ordinary jobs have not managed to increase their living standards. That is a feature of the United States economy and it may be a feature of ours, which is why the Government are interested in apprenticeships and are trying to make our education system far more robust and resilient.

Statistics issued by the OECD the other day demonstrated the importance of ensuring that people are proficient in English and maths and that we have a skilled work force, because that enables those people to generate income and higher living standards. I think that the Government have the right instincts and the right answers, but the fact is that it will take a long time to sort the problem out.

Steve Baker: Given that the money supply was allowed to triple during the 13 years when Labour was in power, it should not surprise us if those nearest to the source of the new money got rich while everyone else went backwards.

Mr Syms: There is an argument to be had about the impact of that. Certainly it helped people with assets rather than those without assets. Nevertheless, I think that progress is being made, and that this morning’s unemployment figures represent a good staging post.

We need to do much more to educate and skill our work force so that we can compete in the global race and improve everyone’s living standards. All the statistics show that some of the more equal societies in Scandinavia are happier societies. What any Government must do in this country is ensure that, as the economy recovers, all sections of the community can earn a living, and can enjoy rising living standards.

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6.19 pm

Dame Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): At the moment, Aberdeen is doing well. Despite the recession, the economy there is booming. There is so much activity in the North sea oil and gas sector that we are experiencing a labour shortage, and today’s unemployment figure in my constituency is down to 1.5 %, which comes pretty close to full employment. In spite of all that, something else is booming: the use of food banks.

The Secretary of State said this morning that the rise in the use of food banks was a result of decent people wanting to help those who found themselves in temporary difficulty, but I do not think that that is the case. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), I think that there is something fundamental going on.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dame Anne Begg: I give way to my colleague on the Select Committee.

Debbie Abrahams: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a real worry that the demand for food banks seems to be related to the targets relating to social security sanctions? That is certainly the experience in my food bank in Oldham. One of my constituents has been waiting for an appeal against a sanction for four months without any money. For him, the food bank has been a lifeline.

Dame Anne Begg: My hon. Friend, like me, has been lobbied by a number of organisations saying that failures in the benefit system are causing much of the increase in food bank use.

If the use of food banks were just a passing phase born out of the global banking crisis and the recent years of austerity, we would not be seeing their growth in places such as Aberdeen. If their use is temporary, why is it still growing when the Government say that the economy is picking up? If their use is nothing new, why are more families depending on food parcels than at any time in history?

Derek Twigg rose

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP) rose

Dame Anne Begg: I might give way later, if I get through my speech quickly.

The number of organisations operating food banks is growing, as is the number of food parcels that are distributed each week. Before 2010, there were some people who required food parcels but their numbers were tiny and the food parcels were a stopgap measure to get them over an immediate crisis. However, in the first six months of this financial year, 27 tonnes of food were distributed across Aberdeen by just four of the organisations operating food banks. That figure does not include the food distributed by the Trussell Trust. Something must have changed between the financial crash and today. One thing that has changed is the Government; another thing is the Government’s social security reforms. The attitude of the Government towards

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those on welfare has changed, too. So even in relatively affluent areas such as Aberdeen, families are depending on food parcels to eat.

Many organisations point to failures in the benefits system as the primary cause of the increase in the use of food banks. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty thought the situation serious enough to encourage their supporters to lobby their MPs and ask them to lobby the Work and Pensions Committee to look into the link between the increase in the use of food banks and the increase in the use of sanctions, as well as the increase in long delays and mistakes in benefit payments by Jobcentre Plus. A large number of MPs on both sides of the House—reflected by the large number in attendance here today—passed on their constituents’ concerns to us on the Committee.

The belief that much of the problem is caused by errors in benefit payments is shared by Citizens Advice Scotland, which reports that 73% of the people using food banks cite problems with their welfare payments, that 30% are experiencing delays in getting the payment to which they are entitled, and that 22% are the subject of jobseeker’s allowance sanctions. However, people who have been sanctioned make up less than a quarter of those who are using food banks. All too commonly, people are using them because they have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. People are still falling ill and losing their jobs as a result, only to face a long delay in getting any benefit. Those delays have got worse in recent years. It also seems to be taking longer and longer to get benefits reinstated once they have been stopped, even by accident. Cuts are also being made to the benefits that people get, including the most pernicious of all—the bedroom tax—and this is all before the largest change of all, universal credit, has been introduced. So things could get worse.

We should be breaking dependency, not making it worse. The Government need to recognise that the increase in the use of food banks is no accident, that it is not just a result of the economic downturn, and that it is not happening just because the food banks are there. It is a result of the policies being actively pursed by the Government. The use of food banks will not drop until the Government realise that and do something to ensure that those who have fallen on hard times are able to feed themselves, rather than having to rely on charity.

6.24 pm

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): It is a privilege to contribute to this debate, and a privilege and honour to represent the headquarters of the Trussell Trust in Salisbury. The trust’s food banks were established in my constituency more than 15 years ago. This started in 2000, when the trust was working in Bulgaria, looking after 60 street children who were sleeping at railway stations there. The founder of the charity received a call from a desperate mother in Salisbury who said, “My children are going to be hungry tonight. What are you going to do about it?” That happened in 2000, and in 2004 two food banks were set up. The people of Salisbury support the trust’s food bank very generously all the year round. Yes, there are people in Salisbury, which has 1.6% unemployment, who use food banks. I want to pay

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tribute to the individuals I have got to know over the past three and half years from Salisbury who lead the work of the Trussell Trust.

Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend speaks powerfully. The spirit that he mentions in relation to the food bank set up by the Trussell Trust has extended to Harlow with its food bank, which was originally set up by the Michael Roberts Charitable Trust but is linked to the Trussell Trust. An extraordinary amount of work is done there, and it has become a very important part of our community. Will my hon. Friend celebrate that? Does he agree that we should support that and not try to use it as a political football?

John Glen: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. Of course, we all support the work of the food banks and the individuals who work in them. I wish to finish my tribute to Chris Mould, David McAuley, Molly Hudson and Mark Elling. I have got to know them, and their responsibility has been to roll out the growth of food banks. That may be uncomfortable for some Government Members, as might its implications and the way the tone of the debate has taken an unfortunate turn this afternoon. We have to acknowledge the growth in food banks. In 2005-06, there were fewer than 3,000 users, but that had risen to 40,000 by 2009-10. I accept that we have seen a similar scale of use. The question is: why, and what are we going to do about it? [Interruption] We are talking about a factor of 10, to about half a million users at the moment. I am not trying to deny the scale of food bank use. If Labour Members would stop trying to make political points, that would be helpful.

The important issue is getting to the bottom of why so many people are using food banks. The Trussell Trust says that this is about not only homelessness, benefit delay, low income and changes to benefits, but domestic violence, sickness, refused short-term benefit advances, debt and unemployment.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): A constituent of mine has had to go to our Trussell Trust because she was a victim of domestic violence. She was separated, had nowhere to go and her husband was not prepared to fund anything. I pay tribute, as my hon. Friend has been doing, to the trust. Hope for Belper and the Belper News, our local paper, have been supporting it to increase the amount of food given by volunteers to the Trussell Trust in Belper and thus spread the amount of food it can give out to people requiring it.

John Glen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention, which speaks for itself. On the deeper causes, it is not a question of isolating one particular change. I recognise that the Trussell Trust has acknowledged from the data it has collected that the benefit changes have presented significant challenges. But what I find lacking in this debate is a serious estimation of what alternative measures could be put in place; all I have heard is, “Remove the sanctions regime. Give more money.” Where is that money going to come from? How will the incentive effect—

Jim Shannon rose

Mr MacNeil rose—

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John Glen: I will carry on. How will the incentive effect of the benefit changes that the Government so desperately want to bring in have a chance of success if we do not make those changes? Some of the benefit changes have taken a long time to come through, and we need to let them take effect so that we can deliver the deeper change that needs to occur. People are motivated to go to the Trussell Trust and other food banks across the country for a whole number of reasons. They may find themselves in chaotic situations; they could be in debt and have no financial management skills to know how to prioritise their spending. I am not saying that that is true in every case, but we must be honest about the breadth of the problems faced by the individuals who use the food banks. We must come up with a solution that addresses all the issues. We should not tritely simplify the matter and say, “It is all about the benefit changes and the Government must do something, but by the way I will not specify what we would do as an alternative, how much it would cost and how we would pay for it and in what time scale.” Unless alternative policies are advanced, the things that some Members are saying ring very shallow for everyone involved in food banks.

It is regrettable that the relationship between the Trussell Trust and the DWP has broken down. I hope that a dialogue can reopen and we can see some progress. I do not believe that any Member in this House is happy to see people in their constituency going hungry, but we should be honest and holistic in our view of what needs to be done to sort it out.

6.31 pm

Mr Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): I was one of the lucky generation who was brought up in a country with a social market economy that was run by Governments—both Labour and Conservative—who believed that the state had a duty to provide a safety net for their citizens and should not abandon them to the instabilities of unregulated markets.

There was a post-war consensus of politicians, including many one nation Conservatives—I am talking about people such as Macmillan, Butler and Macleod—who rejected what Prime Minister Ted Heath called the “unacceptable face of capitalism”. Images of mass unemployment and soup kitchens—the repercussions of the 1929 stock market crash—were to be banished for ever. I never believed for one moment that 50 years later, I would be a Member of this House, living in a country with the seventh largest economy in the world, and discussing why 41,000 people in the west midlands and countless others throughout the country are having to rely on modern-day soup kitchens—food banks—to feed themselves and their families.

Mr MacNeil: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to support his point. He is probably aware that the gap between the richest 1% in the United States of America and the rest of the country is now the largest since the 1920s, the very decade he mentioned. The incomes of the top 1% have gone up by 20%, while the incomes of the remaining 99% have gone up by only 1%. Those tectonic plates are changing.

Mr Godsiff: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I am aware of those facts.

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In my constituency, the Sparkhill food bank feeds hundreds of people every week. I want to share with the House the comments of somebody who has used that food bank. She is a young lady who lives in the Moseley area of my constituency. She says:

“This time last year I was working full time in a well-paid job but lost my job. I found temporary work that ended in February this year. I also suffered bereavements and the breakdown of my long term relationship and ended up in receipt of benefits. I got into debt with all my utility bills and most of my JSA was used to pay npower and Severn Trent Water.”

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): I have been told by the food banks in Widnes and Runcorn in my constituency that they are seeing an increasing number of people without gas or electricity, which means that the food they can supply is inappropriate. They are now having to consider what type of food they provide. It is not a matter of what is donated but of what people can use.

Mr Godsiff: I agree exactly with what my hon. Friend says.

My constituent goes on to say:

“At my lowest I was living off £5 per fortnight…I eventually sought help and was referred to fantastic local charities who helped me deal with my debts and in turn referred me to Sparkhill Foodbank. I will never forget going to the foodbank, it was a humbling experience and I spent 40 minutes crying as I was so ashamed but the workers at the foodbank were fantastic and put me at ease whilst assuring me that my circumstances were not my fault and in no way a reflection of me as a human being.”

She then says:

“Luckily my circumstances are going to change for the better very soon as I have recently found a job…but I will never forget the kindness of strangers who helped me fill my belly in England in 2013.”

The Government ought to be ashamed of presiding over a situation in which such people must go through what that young lady, who is not feckless or a shirker, has had to experience. At the end of the day, lives will be scarred by the humiliation of forcing people into food banks—not just the lives of those individuals, but the lives of their children, too. Whatever the Government say, their MPs should be ashamed of that.

6.36 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on an important subject. I pay tribute to my Stroud food bank, which is an excellent example of exactly what should be delivered for those who are desperately in need. It is a fantastic organisation that demonstrates precisely what we need to do. It is operating in difficult circumstances and has moved from premises with a difficult landlord in London road to some elsewhere, with a new landlord. It will launch itself yet again as an exemplar of what is needed.

We need to ensure that people have the opportunity to have a fulfilled life, which comes through work and by contributing themselves.

Albert Owen: The hon. Gentleman represents a region that contains many rural areas. Will he join me in paying tribute to the special work done by the independent trusts that help to run food banks? Food and fuel poverty are a lot higher in rural areas, which makes their job even more difficult.

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Neil Carmichael: Absolutely. Fuel poverty is an issue, and I fully accept that, but I think the greatest issue is the need for people to recognise that there are opportunities in the work force—opportunities to seek employment and opportunities to fulfil their lives. That is where we need to go.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Of course, finding a job should be the way out of poverty. Is that not why it is so shocking that the majority of working-age people living below the poverty line are now in working households and that two thirds of all children living in poverty are living in working families? What should the hon. Gentleman’s Government be doing about that?

Neil Carmichael: The Government are ensuring that more people are in work and we have discovered today just how that policy is working. The opportunity we must give all people, including young people, is the ability to engage in a working life.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): My hon. Friend is very generous in giving way. Is there not quite a lot that we can do as MPs? My volunteer team works alongside the food bank volunteer team to ensure that food bank clients get all the help that is available to get them and their families out of poverty and to improve their lives.

Neil Carmichael: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is about a holistic approach to helping people. I recognise that certain individuals get into situations in which they need emergency help, and I am grateful to Stroud’s food bank for providing it, but I also think that it is important to ensure that they are pointed in the right direction so that they make decisions that benefit them and their families overall, because that is what matters to them. That is the key issue.

I will finish with this observation: it is critical that we recognise the economic value of supporting people into work.

6.40 pm

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): Food banks have become the shameful symbol of Britain under a Tory Government. They have turned us into a country in which, despite being one of the richest in the world, a rapidly rising number of British people, many of them in work, are being forced to turn to charity to feed themselves and their families. But this Government have the affront—we heard it from the Minister—to say that all is well, when for most people things are getting harder, not easier. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field) said, the Government just will not admit that they are part of the problem. Ministers are sitting on the independent report that they commissioned, presumably because they are ashamed and embarrassed about what it tells them.

The Trussell Trust states that one in three of those fed by food banks are children, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) noted. Many are disabled, including those hit by the cruel, callous and unworkable bedroom tax, which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) spoke about. Many are in work but earning less than the living wage. Indeed, the majority of people in

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poverty today are in work, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) mentioned.

Dr Whiteford: Is the hon. Lady aware that Citizens Advice Scotland published research earlier this week suggesting that the main drivers for the increased use of food banks relate to the benefits system, particularly the increasing use of sanctions and delays and administrative errors?

Rachel Reeves: Sanctions, delays and the bedroom tax are all contributing to the increase in the number of people having to turn to food banks. Today we heard the powerful human stories behind the statistics.

Stephen Doughty: I have compared the use of food banks in my constituency in the festive period over the past two years. In Cardiff the number has doubled since last year, and Penarth has seen an eightfold increase. Is not the real tragedy that this is also a Christmas crisis for food banks?

Rachel Reeves: Yes, and although my hon. Friend refers to the festive period, for many it will not be festive at all.

A fortnight ago a young women with an 18-month-old daughter came to see me in my constituency. She had left her ex-husband to escape domestic violence but was worried sick because the benefits office had cut off her benefits when her ex-husband falsely claimed to have custody of her child. She has been waiting for weeks without any support while it fails to rectify the mistake. Without the food banks in my constituency, run by St George’s Crypt, St Bartholomew’s church in Armley and the Trussell Trust, that woman and her daughter would have gone without food. She has been badly let down by this Government and by their delays and sanctions.

Lyn Brown: The food banks in my constituency, which currently number at least six, tell me that people go without food for three months before turning up to ask for help. Is that not an indictment of the Conservative party?

Rachel Reeves: That is a really important point, but some Government Members and Ministers have suggested that people go to food banks because the food is free. The welfare reform Minister, Lord Freud, says that there is an almost infinite demand for that but, as my hon. Friend points out, people have real pride and are ashamed to go to food banks. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) said, those are sad stories and real lives.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): First, I would like a Government inquiry into food poverty. Secondly, can the hon. Lady tell me whether she believes that unmet need for emergency food relief is currently increasing or decreasing?

Rachel Reeves: The number of people going to food banks is increasing. The demand is there because they are not getting the support they need from the welfare state. The Red Cross, FoodCycle and the Trussell Trust

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are all saying the same. It would be useful if the Government published the report that they commissioned on the growing use of food banks.

What is the Government’s response to this crisis? The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—it is nice to see him here—said on the radio this morning:

“There has been a growth in food banks, as they grow people attend them.”

In the world of the Secretary of State, the rise in food bank use to half a million people reflects an increase in supply, even though people need to be referred to a food bank—they cannot just turn up. The logic of this Government is like blaming the number of house fires on the number of fire engines. I say shame on the Secretary of State and shame on this Government. We have to ask how many children will have to go hungry this Christmas before the Government take action—before the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for Work and Pensions acknowledge that there is a problem and then finally do something about it.

The charities, churches, community groups and volunteers who run the food banks show us Britain at its best—a country of generosity and solidarity, of one nation where people pull together to do what they can for the least fortunate among us. We should, and we do, applaud them, as many hon. Members have said, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Copeland (Mr Reed) and for Newport East (Jessica Morden), and, most recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff), who spoke about the kindness of strangers. When the Prime Minister promised us the big society, is this really what he had in mind—homelessness rising, a boom in payday lending, more and more lives scarred by long-term unemployment, and half a million people relying on food banks to feed themselves and their families?

It is downright Dickensian, a tale of two nations: tax cuts for the rich and food banks for the poor. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, as we in this Chamber look forward to Christmas, we must spare a thought for those who are not going to have any sort of Christmas at all.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a basic human right that people should have sufficient food that they do not need to go hungry, and that in this country they should not have to rely on charity?

Rachel Reeves: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. While we all applaud and thank the food banks, the volunteers and the people who donate food, that is not how our basic needs should be met. The basic need for food should be met through wages and a social safety net when it is needed. The basic need for housing should be met by our wages or by a social safety net when it is needed. The basic need to be able to heat one’s home and turn on the lights should be met by having a decent wage or a social safety net when it is needed.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend seen, as I have, the study by the Children’s Society showing that under this Government the real

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value of the adult national minimum wage is 50p an hour less than it was when Labour was in office? Is this low pay crisis not one of the key drivers of the explosion in the use of food banks?

Rachel Reeves: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The national minimum wage was one of the proudest achievements of the previous Labour Government. It lifted millions of people out of poverty pay, the majority of them women, and employment increased when Conservative Members said that unemployment would increase as a result. We also know today that the real value of the national minimum wage has not kept pace with average earnings or with the rising costs of energy, food prices and everything else, and so people who are in work are increasingly having to turn to food banks to be able to make ends meet.

Although we welcome today’s unemployment numbers, we know that a record number of people are working part time who want to work full time, and that for 41 of the 42 months that this Prime Minister has been in office, prices have risen at a faster rate than earnings. For all those reasons, my hon. Friend is right to point to the problems with the minimum wage, which has not kept pace with the rising cost of living and is not even being enforced. With more than 5 million people being paid less than a living wage, we know that we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that more people can support themselves and their families, rather than having to turn to food aid.

Seventy years ago, William Beveridge spoke of the five giants that he said a civilised country must overcome: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease. Under this Tory-led Government, those giants are rearing their ugly heads again. We need a Labour Government to slay them.

6.50 pm

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) talked about sad stories from real lives and she was right to do so. That is why the House is so packed—because of the concern of Members on both sides about what is going on.

A number of contributors have regretted the tone in which the debate has been conducted and they have a point, so let me start, as the Minister for Civil Society, by joining the many colleagues on both sides of the House, but particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris), the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), who went out of their way to thank the people who set up food banks and who volunteer at and donate to them in their constituencies.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hurd: I will not give way at the moment.

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Frankly, there has been an enormously impressive human, civil society response to need. That need is not new and perhaps it has been under-recognised by Governments of all colours, but the response is entirely resonant with the very proud traditions of this country’s voluntary sector and churches. It is entirely right that we should start our response by congratulating them.

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): Some years ago I spent five months living homeless in London among the dispossessed and the mentally ill. [Interruption.] It was for a television programme; Opposition Members should try it. Does the Minister agree that food banks can be enormously helpful for people with very chaotic lifestyles?

Mr Hurd: Food banks are enormously helpful. It was not entirely clear from the debate whether the Labour party is for or against them, which is why I want to place on record the Government’s recognition of the enormously valuable work they do.

It was right that my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) had the opportunity to place on record his admiration for the work of the Trussell Trust, which was founded in his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) spoke very powerfully of his own family’s experience and mentioned the community store. I pay tribute to FareShare, a national charity that feeds more than 51,000 every day through a unique and amazing partnership with the food industry, which has not been recognised in this debate. The strides made by Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and other big retail partners and organisations such as Nestlé and Gerber make what FareShare do possible, and they should be congratulated.

I should also say that the Government are actively supporting these organisations.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. It is quite clear that the Minister is not giving way at the moment.

Mr Hurd: Support is being provided through the Cabinet Office. I am extremely proud that through our social action fund we have granted £1.7 million to Tearfund, which runs programmes in partnership with the Cinnamon Network that aim to tackle a variety of local issues such as food banks and food poverty. I am proud to say that 81 Trussell Trust-run food bank franchises benefited from that funding. More funding is being made available and more franchises are applying for it. This Government are very proud to place on record our acknowledgement of and congratulations to food banks. We have an active programme to support them

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Will the Minister join me in congratulating those who recently helped set up a food bank in Beverley, those who have run the Holderness food bank from Hornsea—the church groups and others—for the last two years, and the Real Aid children’s charity in Tickton outside Beverley, which does so much to help those in crisis? There will always be people in crisis; we need to make sure we have in place the measures to support them.

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Mr Hurd: I entirely agree, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the tone he has set, which is at odds with the tone used by those on the Labour Front Bench.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Hurd: I am not going to give way because I want to address this point and we are running out of time. Many Members who contributed to the debate complained about the tone, which was set by the Labour Front-Bench team, who came here to play the blame game, which turns the public off. They are in total denial about the past and the actions of the last Government that precipitated the economic crisis that underpins the demand and the need. They came here almost pretending that there was some golden age before 2010 when the social system worked perfectly, the economy worked perfectly and the big state in all its glory was there to help everyone in need, which is absolute rubbish.

Simon Danczuk: Does the Minister accept that scrapping the national social fund has made it more difficult for people to get crisis loans, which has pushed people towards food banks? [Interruption.]

Mr Hurd: The social fund is being administered by local authorities, which, as a councillor himself, the hon. Gentleman well knows. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. There are strong feelings on both sides but the Minister must be heard.

Mr Hurd: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that not one penny was cut and the fund has been devolved to local authorities, which is entirely the right thing to do. There was no acknowledgement of the past, however.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Hurd is exactly what he is.

Mr Speaker: That is not a point of order, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman found it humorous.

Mr Hurd: There was no acknowledgement of the past and no real acknowledgement of some of the complexities underlying this situation. The Labour Front-Bench team came here simply to make political capital and I think lost the respect of the House. It would have been nice to hear some acknowledgement from the Opposition Front Benchers or Back Benchers of the improvement in the economy and the fact that we now have more than 30 million people in work—a record number—and of the performance of this Government in a few years to get this economy back on track.

Sheila Gilmore: I thank the Minister for giving way. I think he was somewhat churlish in not acknowledging that many Opposition Members are also extremely grateful to those who work in food banks. When I went to my local church-run food bank, I found that the people there were not political; the one thing they wanted to tell me was how shocked they were that so many of the people coming to them were suffering from sanctions—and sanctions not as a last resort but as a first resort.

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Mr Hurd: I agree that these magnificent volunteers are not political, and I therefore warn the Labour party against politicising this issue, because that is the gravest charge against it. I think it has forfeited any respect with regard to the sad stories in real life through the approach it took. We had a Labour Front-Bench spokesman come here to talk about a problem with absolutely no indication of a solution. We have had Labour Members standing up to say the welfare system is the problem, and we have a shadow Front-Bench spokesperson who is on record saying she will be tougher than the Tories on welfare, so what does that actually mean for food banks? Would there be more or fewer of them under her leadership? We have no idea at all.

Stephen Mosley: Was my hon. Friend as disappointed as I was by the Opposition Front-Bench Member, who in a 10-minute speech did not outline one policy that the Opposition would put in place to put this right?

Mr Hurd: I would like to say that I was shocked by that, but not any more.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 251, Noes 294.

Division No. 164]


6.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, rh Mr Gordon

Brown, Lyn

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Dame Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robertson, John

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wood, Mike

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr David Hamilton


Nic Dakin


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, rh Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burstow, rh Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Sir Roger

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lloyd, Stephen

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Randall, rh Sir John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Thornton, Mike

Thurso, John

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Anne Milton


Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived.

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18 Dec 2013 : Column 858

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18 Dec 2013 : Column 860

Waveney (Coastal Flooding)

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

7.11 pm

Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): I am pleased to have secured this debate as I believe that the coastal flooding that took place on 5 December should be considered on the Floor of the House. The storm surge has had a devastating impact on many coastal communities, and there is a strong sense in those communities that Parliament has not properly considered what was a narrowly averted national crisis. Many have seen their homes destroyed, while other homes have been seriously damaged and people will not be able to return home for many months. People have lost possessions that were built up over a lifetime, and many small businesses—some of which had difficulty securing full insurance cover—have been seriously hit.

On small business Saturday when MPs were out promoting small businesses, many firms in coastal communities were busy trying to salvage what was left of their livelihoods. Many of those communities face significant economic challenges, and I am concerned that such events might make it more difficult to attract the inward investment needed to create new jobs.

Although Waveney and Lowestoft are the focus of my remarks, I am aware that these events affected many communities along the North sea coast and that colleagues will have their own specific concerns, some of which I hope I shall be able to address on their behalf. I am conscious that my colleagues, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), have been particularly active in support of communities affected in their constituencies, but they are unable to participate in this debate due to their ministerial responsibilities.

Although no one lost their life as a result of the flooding, my constituent Robert Dellow died in the course of his work as a lorry driver as a result of the high winds. I offer my condolences to his family, friends and work colleagues. Although geographically small areas in Lowestoft and Oulton Broad were affected, the impact has been dramatic. Levington Court is a complex that provides housing and care for vulnerable older people. The residents of the 19 flats on the ground floor have been evacuated, their possessions have been destroyed and they will not be able to return to their homes for some months. The Fyffe Centre provides accommodation for the homeless. Twenty-seven people have been flooded out. It will take some months to refurbish and repair the building before they can return. Other residential areas, including St John’s road and Marine parade, have been hard-hit. Many of the homes are in the rental sector, and people have seen all their possessions destroyed.

Businesses have been hard-hit, including Lings car showroom, the East Coast cinema, Britain’s most easterly cinema, and Buyaparcel. The traders in Bevan Street East, which runs parallel to the street where my office is located, were dealt a particularly savage blow.

18 Dec 2013 : Column 861

Infrastructure was damaged. The A12 from Ipswich was closed for 36 hours, and both train lines—to Norwich and Ipswich—were out of action. A full service on the latter has resumed only today. There was structural damage to coastal defences, and infrastructure at the port of Lowestoft was damaged. The doctor’s surgery at Marine parade has had to move and will probably not return from its new location.

To the south, at Kessingland, the flood defences around the Anglian Water pumping station that serves the community have been badly eroded. There is an urgent need to produce a new flood defence scheme. Until two weeks ago, it was envisaged that that would not be necessary for some years.

The scene is a sad one, but good things come out of adversity. It is important to point out that, owing to the investment in flood defences in the past few years and the way in which coastal flooding is managed, many properties were protected that otherwise would have been flooded. The various statutory authorities, including the Environment Agency, the Met Office, the police and fire services, the Flood Forecasting Centre, Suffolk county council and Waveney district council, were prepared for the event.

Flood warnings were issued in good time, the evacuation generally went smoothly and rest centres were open several hours before high tide. During the evening and the night, they and voluntary organisations such as St John Ambulance and the churches rose to the challenge, co-ordinated their efforts and worked around the clock to support and assist people. Many gave their time voluntarily without being asked to do so. Special thanks are due to them. Thanks should also go to Radio Suffolk and Radio Norfolk, which ensured that vital information went out throughout the night.

The clear-up work began the next day and will take several months to complete. Community champions are emerging. People are giving their time, money, goods and services free of charge to those who have been hard-hit. Malcolm Gibbs, a self-employed painter and decorator, is working for free redecorating properties; Danielle Bailey has launched a Facebook appeal for clothes, carpets, furniture and other goods; and customers of the Oddfellows pub have cleared up Pakefield beach.

It is appropriate to thank the Eastern Daily Press, its editor, Nigel Pickover, its staff and its readers for setting up and giving so generously to the Norfolk and Lowestoft flood appeal, which has raised more than £100,000. The House goes into recess tomorrow. I wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and all colleagues a happy and restful Christmas, but we must not forget that many people, not only in Lowestoft but all along the east coast, will not be as fortunate as ourselves.

In the Secretary of State’s written ministerial statement of 10 December, he stated:

“In the next few days, the Government will be discussing with every local authority area affected by the flooding what further help they need to ensure places can quickly get back on their feet.”—[Official Report, 10 December 2013; Vol. 572, c. 26WS.]

I would welcome an update from the Minister on how those discussions have gone and what further help is being provided. I would also welcome an assurance that all clean-up costs will be recovered.

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Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and on putting the case for his constituency. Barrow Haven, a village in my constituency, was badly hit. The residents are grateful to North Lincolnshire council for the work it is doing. The council is somewhat reassured about reclaiming money through the Bellwin formula and so on, but a lot of the work is dependent on the Environment Agency. Does my hon. Friend agree that we would like assurance from the Minister that additional funding, if necessary, will be available to the agency?

Peter Aldous: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. It is important that additional funding goes to local authorities for the costs they incur—I will come on to talk about the Bellwin formula—and to the Environment Agency, for capital works. I pay tribute to the EA, in particular, for the warning it gave leading up to this tragedy.

It is important that the Government review the policies and strategies they have in place to deal with such events. Concerns have been expressed to me that they were not devised with serious coastal flooding in mind. The Pitt review, which was set up by the previous Government after the storms in autumn 2007, appears to have some deficiencies in that it does not address coastal flooding and erosion properly. Its recognition of the need to protect the economy is too limited. Similar criticisms can be made of the new flood and coastal erosion risk management plan that was introduced in 2011. It, too, places insufficient weight on the need to protect the economy or recognise fully the differences between inland flooding, which is temporary, and coastal flooding and erosion, which can be terminal for affected properties and assets.

I would be grateful if the Minister advised on whether the Government have reviewed or plan to review Flood Re, the flood insurance scheme, which is being taken forward at present. Does it fully take into account, and provide for, the events that took place on 5 December? If not, will the Government make amendments so that it does?

The Bellwin scheme is the main vehicle through which the Government will deliver financial support to local communities by reimbursing local authorities for immediate costs incurred in the storm surge. Based on the feedback I have received there is a concern that the scheme, which was originally established in 1983, is no longer fit for purpose. I would be interested to learn what feedback the Government have had in that regard, but I will draw various conclusions to the Minister’s attention.

As a result of recent changes in the localisation of business rates, any rate relief granted by councils to affected businesses will in part be met by them rather than entirely by the Government, as was the case in the past. The scheme is too time-limited and restrictive. It does not cover the costs incurred in repairing sea defences that have been weakened by the event, and is not generally supportive of capital expenditure, which is necessary to repair sea defences. In Waveney, that is estimated at £120,000, while I am advised that in North Norfolk it could be £1 million.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): My hon. Friend is my neighbour and we share Waveney district council. We were both astounded by the level of the

18 Dec 2013 : Column 863

surge and I agree that we need extra capital funding. My understanding is that in Southwold alone an extra £2 million is needed. I join my hon. Friend in praising the Environment Agency—in particular, Dr Charlie Beardall and his team—and the councils for ensuring that people were aware in advance and could prepare as much as possible. They definitely need the resources to fix the problem again.

Peter Aldous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour for that intervention, with which I agree wholeheartedly.

A further problem with the Bellwin scheme is that the two-month limitation that applies to expenditure means that extensive capital works are excluded if they cannot be completed in that time scale, which in the current circumstances could be very difficult to achieve. The costs of employing additional temporary staff or contractors are also not covered.

In the light of those and other concerns, there is a worry that Bellwin on its own will not be able to achieve the Secretary of State’s objective of getting places back on their feet quickly. In the short term, there is a need for communities to look at a variety of measures that manage flood risk. They include the provision of flood boards and valves in air bricks and in WCs, and liaison with the insurance industry to ensure that, where such protection measures are in place, it provides cover on realistic terms. It is also necessary to plan for the future. I believe that owing to rises in sea levels such events will occur with increased frequency, and I am conscious that in Lowestoft there have now been two such events in the past six years.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I concur with a lot of what my hon. Friend has said, and I congratulate him on securing the debate. As the Minister knows from our debates on the Water Bill last week, hundreds of properties and many villages in my constituency were flooded. My hon. Friend has talked about the future. Does he agree that we urgently need a review and reassessment of all our flood strategy management plans, including the Humber flood risk management strategy plan, so that we can bring forward the works already identified in such plans as necessary to deal with rising sea levels? We need that to happen quickly and we need the funding in place to support whatever works are necessary.

Peter Aldous: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I agree wholeheartedly that we need to address this issue as soon as practicable. One will lead on from the other.

We have had two such storm surges in the past six years, and arguably in both 2007 and 2013 we escaped by the skin of our teeth. In 2007, the wind dropped in the nick of time, while two weeks ago we were fortunate that the wind was blowing in a northerly direction and that there was no heavy rainfall, which would have exacerbated the surge up the rivers. It would be foolish to assume that we will be lucky a third time.

The challenges of rising sea levels and climate change mean that such events will take place with greater frequency. It is important to remember that sea levels along the Suffolk coast have been rising by 2.4 mm per annum since the 1950s. In Lowestoft, research carried

18 Dec 2013 : Column 864

out by Halcrow and Bam Nuttall concludes that a 1953-type flood, which was previously considered to be a one-in-1,000-year event, could well now take place every 20 years. There is thus a need for new and improved sea defences, and it is important that these be put in place as soon as practicable.

Preparatory work on a Lowestoft flood defence scheme is nearing completion. It should be submitted to the Government shortly, and I hope it will receive favourable consideration. It is important to the town’s future that work on the scheme starts as soon as practicable. There is the opportunity to attract considerable investment into the town, particularly in the oil and gas and offshore renewables sectors, and the inclusion of this part of Lowestoft in the draft assisted area map will help in this respect. However, businesses will think very carefully before making such commitments unless adequate flood defences are in place.

I have raised a number of issues, but I return to the most important, which is obtaining an assurance from the Minister that the Government are doing all they can to ensure that local communities affected by the storm surge get back on their feet as quickly as possible. In what is the season of good will, we owe it to those many people whose lives have been turned upside down this Christmas to provide an undertaking that they will not be forgotten.

On that note, Mr Deputy Speaker, happy Christmas to you, to the staff of the House and to all colleagues on both sides of the House. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

7.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to respond to this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) not only on securing it, but on how he opened it and the measured way in which he raised issues that are important to his constituents and others across the country who either were affected by the surge or, as he pointed out, escaped being affected this time but are concerned that we prepare for future events.

The coastal surge that struck the eastern coast of England on the night of 5 and 6 December was a significant flood event. It was the largest surge since 1953, and in several places the water height exceeded that experienced 60 years ago. It caused flooding to about 1,400 properties and some damage to infrastructure. I know all our thoughts are with those whose homes and businesses were damaged during these powerful storms. However, through investment by Government, and improvements to the way we manage this type of flooding, we were able to protect up to 800,000 properties countrywide that might otherwise have been flooded.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney pointed out, there was a multi-agency response to this event, with all relevant authorities pulling together to protect people and their property. I am grateful for the excellent response from our front-line emergency services, including the police, the fire services, the Environment Agency and, of course, local authorities, as well as all the volunteers who assisted. They all worked tirelessly to respond to the surge, both as it happened as well as in the ensuing recovery effort.

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Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): In Essex, we all acknowledge how well Tendring district council and Essex police did—they did a fantastic job in organising the evacuation of Brooklands and Jaywick. Thousands of people were moved; it is to the great credit of people in Jaywick and Brooklands that thousands of people were moved with such minimal fuss. Does my hon. Friend accept that absolutely key to the whole process was the fact that the Environment Agency put the information out in the public domain early? By mid-afternoon, it was available through mainstream media and, in particular, social media, which allowed people to take responsibility and act responsibly. Often, they did not need the authorities to do things for them because they were able to make arrangements themselves. That shows a key way to move large numbers of people quickly and safely in future.

Dan Rogerson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I visited his constituency on the Sunday after the events, as he knows, and I was very impressed with the feedback I received from local residents about how the evacuation had proceeded and how reassuring it was for them, with everything well handled. I spent some time with Dr Charlie Beardall, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney mentioned, and with officials from Tendring council, who talked about not only the response to the events, but how they were engaging with our programme for partnership funding to ensure that further defences in that part of the coast can be brought forward. I shall say more about that.

As well as the agencies I have mentioned, I would like to praise the work of the Flood Forecasting Centre, run by the Met Office and the Environment Agency. More than 160,000 homes and businesses received a flood warning, as my hon. Friend illustrated from his own constituency, and they received advice in advance to enable them to put the flood plans into action.

Nationally, the Environment Agency issued 71 severe flood warnings, five of which were for the Waveney district. Emergency service partners were aware of the event 36 hours in advance of the tide, and strategic goal controls were established in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex on Wednesday 4 December. Those remained in place throughout the event. The combination of accurate forecasting and extensive planning and preparation allowed us to co-ordinate the response to ensure the focus was on protecting communities at risk and the key infrastructure that supports them.

The extremely severe conditions were caused by a rare combination of factors: very low atmospheric pressure over the North sea, causing the sea level to rise, which, combined with the high astronomic tides and gale force winds, resulted in a tidal surge of unprecedented sea levels on some parts of the coast. The extreme conditions put sea defences to their greatest test in 60 years, with record tidal surge levels experienced at many locations along the entire length of the east coast. In Lowestoft, the record high tide, or the recorded high tide, was the same as in 1953, and over half a metre higher than the more recent surge of November 2007.

With the changing climate, there is more of a risk of extreme weather events. According to the climate change risk assessment, the probability of coastal flooding is projected to increase as the climate changes. I assure the

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House that the Government, in this and all their policies, take full account of the potential impact of climate change on our flood defence strategy.

Let me refer to a number of important local aspects that my hon. Friend has raised. Our thoughts are, of course, with the family and friends of Mr Robert Dellow, who tragically lost his life as a result of the high winds. I pay tribute, too, to Malcolm Gibbs, Danielle Bailey and, indeed, the customers of the Oddfellows pub and the Eastern Daily Press for all they did to help the community recover.

As for the local impact, the latest Environment Agency estimate suggests that 87 properties were flooded in the low-lying centre of the commercial heart of Lowestoft. The area of Oulton Broad, which lies at the western end of Lake Lothing in Lowestoft, also suffered a second inundation by flooding from the River Waveney, some two hours after the initial tidal surge. The road crossings at the bascule bridge and Mutford lock crossing were both closed, effectively cutting Lowestoft in half. Flooding also resulted in the closure of the A12 at Blythburgh. Rail services between Lowestoft and Norwich and between Lowestoft and Ipswich were disrupted as a result of flooding at Lowestoft Central station and damage to the signalling network. The Lowestoft to Ipswich line remained closed some 11 days after the tidal surge.

Further south in the constituency, there was limited flooding at a number of locations in the Blyth estuary. Recent defences protected the vast majority of properties in Southwold. It was confirmed that seven commercial and three residential properties had been flooded in Southwold and the surrounding marshes, while 133 properties in the town had been protected from flooding. My thoughts go out to all who have been affected by the floods: it is especially difficult for them in the run-up to the season that we are about to celebrate. The internationally important designated coastal habitats between Lowestoft and Southwold were all subject to breaching of the fragile sand and shingle barriers that offer them limited protection, but the Environment Agency has inspected the sites and expects the barriers to repair themselves naturally over the next few tides.

The principal coast protection authority in the Lowestoft area is Waveney district council, while other defences are maintained by Associated British Ports, the harbour authority. The Environment Agency has worked closely with the council’s engineering staff throughout the event and its aftermath. The damage to defences has been assessed and appears to be relatively minor except on Lowestoft south beach, where more detailed engineering assessments are still taking place. Separately, Suffolk county council has been preparing a flood alleviation scheme for sections of the A12 that were flooded at Blythburgh. The scheme is expected to become operational in 2014. There are 550 properties that lie outside Lowestoft in the Waveney valley. The Environment Agency has spent approximately £12 million on strengthening flood defences along the valley over the past 10 years under the Broadland flood alleviation project.

During the event itself, a number of people were temporarily re-homed, and advice has been offered to businesses and householders. A multi-agency information centre has been established in the worst-affected area. The district council has removed damaged goods and possessions free of charge, and has granted rate and council tax relief to affected properties. The multi-agency

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response to the surge is now focusing on recovery, and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has set up a Bellwin scheme to reimburse local authorities for their immediate costs caused by the storm surge. My hon. Friend asked about the configuration of the scheme. As he will appreciate, such matters are for the Department for Communities and Local Government, but his comments are on the record, and I shall ensure that they are conveyed to those at the Department so that they can respond to him.

The Government have begun the process of discussing with all local authority areas affected by the flooding what further help they need to ensure that they can get back on their feet quickly, and we stand ready to assist where we can do so. Waveney district council has already notified the Department for Communities and Local Government that it has in mind a potential claim under the Bellwin scheme.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): Can the Minister reassure Waveney district council, North Lincolnshire council and other councils that they will not be out of pocket as a result of having supported their communities following this natural disaster?

Dan Rogerson: As has been made clear, measures in the Bellwin formula enable the Government to reimburse councils. As one who represents an area that has been flooded, I have seen how the system operates. For example, there are always different implications for two-tier and single-tier local government areas. The Department for Communities and Local Government takes those issues very seriously in its interaction with councils, and it will be discussing with councils what is necessary in this instance.

Local resilience forums and the various front-line responders all along the east coast have been planning and preparing for an event such as this for some time. A prime example is the east coast flood framework document that was published in January this year, which sets out local response arrangements. It was prepared by a wide range of local authorities and other front-line responders, including those in the Waveney constituency, working with central Government to ensure alignment with wider national resilience planning. It is testimony to their

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efforts that the impacts, although, as we have heard, devastating for those directly affected, are on a much smaller scale than those of the comparable coastal flooding event in 1953. However, there are always lessons to be learnt from our response to events such as this. I assure the House that the Government will review their approach, and that we will improve our planning and preparedness accordingly.

Flood management is a top priority for the Government. It has a vital role to play in protecting people and property from the damage caused by flooding and in delivering economic growth and supporting a strong economy. I was particularly impressed, when I visited Clacton, to hear about its plans to use the flood defences to restore the sandy beach, which should also have economic benefits. There is a clear case for investing in flood defences not only because of the economic risks attached to flooding but because of what they can bring to the local economy. That is an excellent project. I know that the situation in Lowestoft is being considered, as my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney has outlined, and I look forward to hearing about the proposals for its flood defences. Commitments have been made by local partners to invest in them, and that will no doubt make the case for investment in the scheme even better.

Dr Thérèse Coffey: I thank the Minister for his response so far. Will he also lobby the Department for Communities and Local Government on the use of the coastal communities fund, which exists to promote jobs and growth, to see whether funds could be made available to improve flood defences, which could protect existing jobs as well?

Dan Rogerson: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the pots of money that are available for local communities. Sometimes a case can be made for linking them to various projects. I have learned about a case in the past week for investment in economic growth to be joined with work on flood prevention. It is an excellent example—

7.41 pm

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