The Prime Minister: I absolutely understand the weight of argument behind the proposal. We are looking at it. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman an exact timeframe,

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but it is not going to take ages to consider the issue. I repeat again that, while there are, of course, very important issues in favour of taking the action he puts forward, we need to consider all of the issues, including those people who, yes, are tragically orphaned, but who have broader and wider family around them where they are currently.

Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): As the RAF seeks to destroy Daesh in Syria and Iraq, does the Prime Minister agree that our commitment to the 2% NATO target for the defence budget improves our ability to strike those who threaten Britain?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; it not only provides the resources that the RAF, our Navy and our Army need, but sends a massive signal about Britain’s place in the world and Britain’s intention to play a full role in safeguarding our world. I think that it has been recognised by our allies and, indeed, our enemies as such.

Mr Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op): However the Prime Minister wishes to characterise ever closer union, is it not the case that most people accept that the European Union is moving in the direction of a union of European states, rather than a united states of Europe?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an important argument, but I think there are forces going in both directions. On the good side, the widening of the European Union to include the Baltic states, the Nordic countries and the Balkan states has been a great advance for the British agenda, and the fact that we are focusing Europe on doing trade deals with the fastest growing parts of the world, rather than looking inwards, is a great advance in the agenda.

However, there are still proposals for more federalistic approaches and Britain has successively carved itself out of those things. If Europe wants a border force to help police its external borders, that is a matter for them and is not something we will take part in. If the eurozone wants to pass a series of laws to have a fiscal union or mutual debt obligations, that is a matter for it. It is fine, as long as we are not involved. What I aim to get through the renegotiation is the best of both worlds for Britain—in Europe where it is to our benefit, but not involved in those things that involve the wrong passage of sovereignty from this place to others.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): The Prime Minister tells us that other EU Heads of Government say that the EU needs Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Does that not show the strength of our negotiating position? They need our money and our economic strength. Therefore, has not the time come for him to screw his courage to the sticking point and say to Chancellor Merkel—that great beadle of Berlin—when he next sees her, “Please, we want some more”?

The Prime Minister: I will bear that in mind when I see Chancellor Merkel in the snows of Bavaria on Wednesday evening. Of course we have negotiating capital. We have a strong position because we make such a huge contribution to the organisation, but I believe that what I have set out is the right approach for our country.

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Mr David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): At the recent meeting of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, huge concern was expressed by parliamentary colleagues from right across the British Isles about this country’s possible exit from the European Union. What, if any, work is being done to look at the specific impacts on Northern Ireland and on the Republic—our closest and oldest neighbour—if the referendum is lost?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. One of the strongest voices of support for the British renegotiation was the Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who made a brilliant speech at the European Council, for which I will for ever be very grateful. The Republic of Ireland wants Britain to stay in the European Union, because all sorts of difficult issues would arise in respect of the border and other things if we were outside it. Of course, the Republic of Ireland sees Britain as a strong voice in Europe for many of the things it believes in. Look, we have to get this deal right, and then we need to bring all the arguments to bear on both sides of the case. I think that what is said by those in the Republic and in Northern Ireland will make a big difference.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On security, one thing that safeguards the United Kingdom against terrorism, although it is not fool proof, is the lack of access to small arms and light weapons, in particular semi-automatic rifles. I therefore commend the Prime Minister in his efforts at the Council meeting to ensure that more work is done across Europe, including with the western Balkan countries, to stop the smuggling of illegal weapons from the Balkans into Europe.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this issue. I raised it personally at the European Council in respect of not just small arms, but semi-automatic weapons. More action is being taken in Europe, but some countries, particularly some of the Nordic countries, have an issue because of the way in which their citizens defence forces are set up. We need to go through all those problems to check that we can do more. Stopping the arms coming from the Balkans is absolutely key.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Happy new year, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] And to you all.

Britain is taking great leadership in environmental policy in Europe and beyond. Will the Prime Minister use the Paris COP 21 conference to press the EU to ensure that imperatives on climate change from that conference are fully integrated into the US-EU free trade agreement, so that companies do not fine Governments when they pass legislation to meet stronger emissions targets?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I will ensure that it is properly dealt with. The main thing we must do now is implement those things that were agreed at the COP and that need action in either the UK or the EU, but I do not see the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership providing any particular problems on that front.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): EU migrants can claim up to £700 a month in tax credits, which is almost double the amount to which they are entitled in Germany.

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Following a recent court ruling, Germany has decided to change its laws so that EU migrants will not be able to claim such welfare before they contribute. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that news suggests that similar reform is highly possible in this country, and will he say what impact it will deliver?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. Britain’s requirement on these welfare changes has stimulated something of a debate in Europe. I do not want to speak for the German Chancellor, but Germany is trying to deal with this issue at the same time as us. It has a more contributory system, but none the less it has some of the same issues. I am convinced that we can come to a good answer, and countries across the north of Europe understand how much that needs to be done.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): Given that the ballot paper in the European referendum makes no mention of the Prime Minister’s renegotiations, will he answer the simple question that voters will have to answer: should the United Kingdom, in principle, remain in the European Union or leave the European Union?

The Prime Minister: The right thing to do is to wait for the renegotiation and see whether we want to remain in the EU as amended, or leave the EU. The whole point is to give people a better choice. Many people said to me before the last election, “I don’t want the false choice of staying in an organisation that needs reform or leaving it altogether. Give me a better choice.” That was the most popular policy not just in England, but in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and that is why we are putting it in place.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): Given the critical economic impact on this country of whether we leave or remain in the EU, will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will do all he can to push for a fair settlement regarding discrimination and access to the single market for those countries that choose to have the best of both worlds by remaining in the EU, but outside the straitjacket of the European single currency?

The Prime Minister: That is absolutely key to our negotiating aims, and a country that is a member of the single market but not of the single currency should not suffer disadvantage. As I said, a number of occasions—whether calls to bail-out eurozone countries, or the location policy that euro-clearing houses can be put only in eurozone countries—have shown just how important this issue is, and that is why it is so vital to the renegotiation.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Being part of the single European market is obviously vital to the British economy. Will the Prime Minister therefore prepare and publish a report before the referendum, to show the impact on the British economy if we were to withdraw from the European Union?

The Prime Minister: I certainly believe that documents need to be published, and I think that the other place insisted in some amendments on what sorts of document need to be published. Within those documents they will

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set out what the renegotiation has accomplished and what are the benefits and disbenefits. I will be careful what I say to the hon. Gentleman because this is what was decided in the other place and I think accepted by us, so perhaps I can drop him a line about it.

Sir Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): My right hon. Friend rightly told the House about the discussions on aviation security and passenger data sharing, which are important. Were there also discussions on the equally important issue of people who work at airports, not simply background checks but day-to-day checks when they turn up for work?

The Prime Minister: We did not go into that level of detail, but clearly the aim now is to have far greater collaboration and co-operation on airport security. One of the things that the Sharm el-Sheikh airline attack demonstrated is that, while we all believe we have made big advances in airport security, we cannot rest on our laurels. We have to keep asking: how could a terrorist get within the confines of an airport and do harm? The work is being carried out on that basis.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): The Polish Foreign Minister is reported as saying that Poland will support the Prime Minister on in-work welfare benefits if he will back its demands for a NATO base. Has the Prime Minister or any of his officials had discussions on this with their Polish counterparts?

The Prime Minister: I do not think a NATO base has been discussed. Certainly, we support the idea that more NATO forces should be properly deployed in eastern European and Baltic countries in order to demonstrate that NATO absolutely stands by its obligations. As President Obama put it, when the Russians look over various borders or into other European countries, he wants them to see not just Latvian, Lithuanian or Polish soldiers but French, British and German soldiers as well.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): After the latest European Council meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “It is important for British citizens that we find a solution, and the more satisfying the solution the more who will be convinced that Europe can put forward solutions.” The tone is encouraging, but does my right hon. Friend agree the crux now is converting mood music into substance?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think there is good will towards Britain. As I said, many of the contributions to this debate were not just about Britain benefiting from being in Europe but about Europe benefiting from having Britain in it. People do not want us to leave, but we have to turn the good will into action. That is what the February or any subsequent Councils will be all about.

Toby Perkins (Chesterfield) (Lab): I wish the Prime Minister well in his renegotiations. I shall be campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU whether he is successful or not. He should not oversell the difference it will make to Britain whether he is successful or not. It means a lot to those of us who will be campaigning to stay in the EU that we will be able to do so on the basis of an honest

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and transparent case. It is therefore difficult for him to say that the changes he is campaigning for are irreversible. He knows as well as anyone that a future Prime Minister, Government or Parliament can change the terms in which we are in. Will he withdraw the allegation that the things he is campaigning for now are irreversible?

The Prime Minister: What I am looking for are changes that are legally binding and irreversible. Should a future British Prime Minister and the 27 other Prime Ministers and Presidents around the table decide to take Europe in a totally different direction, then that would be very concerning. But, and it is a big but, we should remember that we passed through this House the referendum lock. If any future Labour Prime Minister—or any other Prime Minister—tried to give away powers that we either have or get back there would be another referendum, so I do not think we have to worry about that.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): In the shadow Foreign Secretary’s well-received speech in the Syria debate, he quoted Karwan Tahir, from the Kurdistan Regional Government, on the strategic importance of UK forces joining air strikes against Daesh inside Syria. Will the Prime Minister confirm that RAF airstrikes now taking place inside Syria are helping to repel counter-attacks against Kurdish peshmerga forces in northern Iraq?

The Prime Minister: I can confirm that. As was set out in that debate, if we believe in shrinking and eventually eradicating Daesh, that has to be done on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border. In the period since the vote, most of the action has been concentrated in Iraq because of the retaking of Ramadi, but the fact that we can pursue people across that border and the fact that we have been able to take action specifically against the oil wealth Daesh has built up, is beginning to make a difference.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): In the Prime Minister’s remarks, he described one of his four pillars, that regarding in-work benefits, as his four-year proposal. He has heard one of his colleagues on the Back Benches cite the Conservative manifesto. As far as his negotiations are concerned, will he explain to the House what has been the difference between a four-year proposal and a four-year demand?

The Prime Minister: The UK has put its proposals on the table in each of the four areas, and of course, in the area of migration, the four-year proposal is not our only proposal: we have talked about child benefit, benefit abuse, criminality and our migration rules. I have said that my four-year proposal remains on the table unless or until something equally good is put in its place. I am happy to listen to other suggestions, but people need to know that this is crucial to getting the right deal.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): If, as seems increasingly likely, Switzerland successfully negotiates restrictions on the freedom of movement, will my right hon. Friend’s position change as a result? Is what is good for Switzerland good for Britain?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend might imagine, I am watching closely the Swiss attempts to renegotiate its position since the referendum. The difficulty of its position is that the EU is saying to Switzerland, “Yes,

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we’re happy to talk to you about free movement of people, but everything else is up for grabs”—there is no guarantee of Swiss access to any part of the single market without agreement in this area. That is worth thinking about carefully in terms of the relationship between a country—particularly a small country outside the EU—and the rest of the EU.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Given the lack of progress and detail in the Prime Minister’s renegotiation wish list and considering he has asked for other ideas today, will he support my party’s call for greater influence for the devolved Governments within the EU’s decision-making structures as a way of increasing democracy and accountability?

The Prime Minister: We have made a lot of advances in recent years in making sure that devolved views are clearly taken into account before Council meetings, and we continue to do that.

Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con): As well as our armed forces, will the Prime Minister also pay tribute to British police officers, such as the chief constable of Leicestershire police, Simon Cole, who, as he knows, is the lead on the National Police Chiefs Council’s Prevent strategy to counter radicalisation and who works hard, along with other police officers, to protect us all from terrorists?

The Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend says, this is a good moment to pay tribute to the police. They worked incredibly hard over the Christmas period, not just with the flooding but on counter-terrorism, working with our security services. Given the heightened concern following the Paris attacks, now is a good moment to pay tribute to what they do.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): May I take the Prime Minister back to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)? I cannot believe he thinks that the 3,000 children wanting to come to this country are trying to break in—

The Prime Minister indicated dissent.

Clive Efford: That is what the Prime Minister said. I will give him the chance to put the record straight, but it is not acceptable to say that the disagreement among non-governmental organisations about how to help these children is an argument for doing nothing. We are asking for an in-principle commitment to help 3,000 children. Will he give that?

The Prime Minister: Let me be clear—I hope I did not mislead the House in any way—the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said she had been to Calais and seen the state of the “jungle” camp, and I was just making the point that we will do everything we can to help the French deal with the people there, but that, in the end, the people in the Calais camp do not have a right to come to the UK and, under international rules, should be claiming asylum in the first safe country they reach.

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Of course, we will carefully consider the issue of unaccompanied children. We are taking people from the Syrian camps—that is the 20,000—including many very vulnerable people and families, and we are looking at the 3,000 in good faith, but as I have said many times, there are issues to be worked through. I am glad, however, to have had the opportunity to separate those two issues.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): I commend the Prime Minister for his statement. Will he confirm that UK personnel will not take part in any external border Schengen area patrols? Would that not go against the principle of moving away from ever closer union?

The Prime Minister: We are not a Schengen country, so there is no prospect of us being part of a European external border force. Our external border is well delineated and well protected, but we should obviously look at what more we can do. Should we, however, stop other European countries if they want to get together and do more at their external border? No, I do not think we should. Frankly, we want to see a better-protected European border. Whether or not we would co-operate, work with or help some future force, I do not know, but it could be properly looked at. At the moment, even though we are not in Schengen, we have more people working on the European Asylum Support Office than any other European country. In the end, we recognise that protecting Europe’s external border is in our interest. Again, I think we can have the best of both worlds: we can keep our border controls and keep out of Schengen, while encouraging other European countries to do more on their external border and providing help where appropriate and necessary, but make sure that we maintain our own sovereignty in this vital regard.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): In his earlier replies to my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), the Prime Minister made it clear to the people of Scotland, and presumably to the people of Wales and Northern Ireland too, that a consequence of being part of the United Kingdom is that we have to put up with the possibility of our people voting to stay in the European Union yet being dragged out of it if a majority of people in England vote to leave. This is how the Prime Minister has started 2016, but for most of 2014 the Prime Minister was telling us that being part of the United Kingdom was the only way to guarantee our membership of the EU. Will he tell us how it is possible to reconcile those two directly contradictory views?

The Prime Minister: Very easily. If Scotland had voted to leave the United Kingdom, which the people of Scotland wisely rejected, they would have been in a very long queue to get back into the EU. Having met the Spanish Prime Minister several times, I am not sure that there are many circumstances in which the Spanish would ever let an independent Scotland back into the European Union. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman’s first question. The answer to the second is that we had a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom and the hon. Gentleman’s party vowed to abide by the decision taken—for one United Kingdom.

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Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): Does it not remain the case that by focusing our efforts in the region and by helping in those areas, we can help 20 people for every one person we bring to Britain? Is that not the most effective way for the British people to help those who find themselves in such difficult situations?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figures speak for themselves. We said we would take 20,000 people from the camps, do 1,000 by Christmas and get on with it. Thanks to the excellent work of the Under-Secretary of State for Refugees, we have fulfilled our pledge. If we look at the resettlement and relocation schemes that the EU spent a lot of time discussing, so far they have not amounted to as many as the 1,000 people that we have helped. I am sure that they will over time, but my point is that Britain is a country that prides itself on signing agreements, implementing them and doing the things that are set out in those agreements. That is exactly what we have done with Syrian refugees.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Has the Prime Minister discussed his renegotiation efforts with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, and does he recognise the growing anxiety of Gibraltarians at the prospect of British exit from the European Union—not least the prospect that a currently impartial Commission and other member states might take sides in future deliberations between Britain and Spain?

The Prime Minister: I have not discussed the issue recently with the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, with whom I am on very good terms. But of course people in Gibraltar will have a vote.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): Returning to the subject of Syrian refugees, I was fortunate to meet in the week before Christmas a Syrian family that had resettled in my constituency. It was obvious from talking to the parents how grateful they were. Watching the tears well up in the eyes of their little girl, who was the same age as my own daughter, was a reminder of what a harrowing experience they had been through. One thousand by Christmas was a big ask, but we did it. The fact that the British Red Cross, a caseworker and interpreter were with these people provided an example and a reminder for me that bringing them here properly and under the right terms, so that they have the services they need, means that we have done this the right way round.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. That is the right way of doing it. We have to keep on now and ensure that we deliver the 20,000 that we promised. I pay tribute to the local authorities that have offered housing and support. The model we have is the right one.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): This afternoon the Prime Minister has talked about the national security angle being a compelling reason to stay in the EU. Can he therefore explain how it will work if the Home Secretary decides to campaign to leave the EU?

The Prime Minister: I have set out the position, which is that we will make a recommendation following the conclusion of the renegotiation. The Government will have a position. I have set out what I want that position

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to be but I have to conclude my renegotiation successfully first. In that circumstance, a Cabinet that has repeatedly discussed this issue and gone through the areas of renegotiation will come to a clear position, but of course Ministers who have long-standing, strong views on this who want to campaign in a personal capacity will be able to do so. That is the sensible, mature and right thing to do. Obviously, that will come into force once we have completed the renegotiation, and I look forward to that moment.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): As chair of the all-party group on Denmark, I noted with interest that in the recent referendum the Danish people voted against moves to amend its opt-outs on justice and home affairs, due largely to concerns about migration. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that result was discussed at the Council? Does he agree that that result underlines the importance of the EU responding positively to his reform agenda and ensuring that it has better controls over its own borders?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. Europe has to address individual concerns of individual countries. That is exactly what it is doing with respect to Britain. The Danish Government took the approach of holding that referendum. That is a matter for Denmark. Now that the people in Denmark have decided, I hope that everyone can be creative and helpful in trying to ensure that Denmark can benefit from the security that is available through institutions such as Europol, which I am sure it wants to go on co-operating and working with. We will have to find a way of making that happen.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): The UK helped to draft the UN refugee conventions after the second world war, when we promised that never again would refugees be left out in the cold. The first body of a child to be washed up in 2016 was washed up this weekend on Greek shores. Refugee charities have written to the Prime Minister and said that the commitment is

“too slow, too low and too narrow.”

Will he show leadership and promise to extend support to refugees, including working with EU partners to establish safe and legal ways to reach the EU and travel across it?

The Prime Minister: I have just replied to that powerful letter and made a number of the points we have discussed today, including that we made our promise of 20,000 and are delivering on that, which stands in contrast with the schemes that are not yet up and running in the way ours is. One of the key points about the UN rules is that people should claim asylum and refugee status in the first safe country that they reach. It is important that we try to reinforce that in the work we do.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I welcome what the Prime Minister has said about the Commission’s proposals on firearms. Some of the measures are to be welcomed, but some are causing great concern among re-enactment and living history groups across the UK. Can he assure me that he will look carefully at the details of those proposals to ensure that there are no unintended consequences?

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The Prime Minister: Like my hon. Friend, I have had some letters as a constituency MP from people who are enthusiasts for re-enactments. We need to look carefully at this matter. There has been a problem with replica guns that get converted into guns that can actually kill people, so we have to be careful, while showing sympathy to those who have replicas or things such as that, to ensure that they are not a genuine danger.

Danny Kinahan (South Antrim) (UUP): Just before Christmas, there were reports in the media that some tens of thousands of blank EU passports had been stolen. If that is true, it has great consequences for our security, immigration and everything else. Is it true? If it is, what are we doing about it?

The Prime Minister: I am not aware of that report. I will look into the matter and perhaps write to the hon. Gentleman.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the controversial decision to grant asylum to Abdul Rahman Haroun, the man who infamously broke into and ran through the channel tunnel, sends completely the wrong signal, and risks seriously undermining public confidence in the EU and our own border controls?

The Prime Minister: Such decisions are made independently, according to the asylum rules. However, let us be absolutely clear about the fact that we should do everything we can to secure the tunnel and make sure that it is not possible for people to access our country by breaking into it.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): NATO strategy and priorities must not be conflated with the EU renegotiation. Will the Prime Minister give us a categorical assurance that none of the discussions with the Polish Government will include giving them a permanent NATO base in Poland as part of securing their support for this agreement?

The Prime Minister: No one has talked about a base of the kind that my hon. Friend describes. However, I strongly believe that, as part of the NATO strategy that has already been agreed, we should be contributing to the high-readiness forces. I strongly support that. I believe that we should be taking part in the Baltic air policing mission, for example, and that we should be ensuring that British soldiers exercise on Polish soil, as they do. If there are proposals to do more of those things, I for one will welcome them.

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that there is nothing progressive or noble about handing over more and more powers to unelected, unaccountable overseas bodies? Does he agree with my constituents that the principle of ever closer union is important because it sets out a clear direction of intent?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. That is why, as I have said, Britain’s engagement on Europe is not half-hearted. When it comes to the single market, we are its greatest champions. When it comes to sanctions against Putin’s Russia because of what has happened in

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Ukraine, we are the ones in the vanguard. When it comes to wanting to sign deals with the fastest-growing parts of the world, we are the ones making the argument. However, we have never believed in ever closer union or in a political superstate. That is not what we want.

I want to give the British people a very clear choice. We can be in Europe for the trade and the co-operation and the security that we require, but we do not want to be part of some federalising project. I think that while we are out of the euro and out of Shengen, and not having to be part of those supranational things, we will get a good deal.

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5.12 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement about our work to counter the threat that we face from terrorism, in the light of the latest propaganda video from Daesh.

This weekend, Daesh released a video depicting the sickening murder of five men whom they had accused of spying for Britain. The video also featured a young boy. Let me echo the Prime Minister's words: this is a barbaric and appalling video. Daesh seek to intimidate and spread hateful propaganda, but in doing so they only expose their own depravity, and the emptiness of their proposition.

The House will understand that this is an ongoing police investigation. and that I cannot comment further while that investigation continues. To do so could prejudice the outcome of any future judicial process. For the same reason, I cannot comment on the alleged identity of the man or the child in the video.

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, more than 800 people from the UK who are of national security concern are thought to have travelled to the region, and we believe that about half of them have returned. Those who have travelled include young women and families. We have seen deadly Daesh-inspired terrorist attacks in Europe and other countries, including the attacks last year in Paris, Lebanon, Turkey, Kuwait and Tunisia, where 30 British nationals, along with others, were murdered at a tourist resort.

It is imperative that the police and security services have the resources and the powers that they need to keep us safe. Since 2010, we have protected the counter-terrorism policing budget, and, as we announced in November, through the strategic defence and security review, we have made new funding available to the security and intelligence agencies. That will provide for an additional 1,900 officers, an increase of 15%, at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, and will enable us to respond better to the threat that we face from international terrorism, cyber-attacks and other global risks. We have also strengthened the powers available to the police and security and intelligence agencies.

In 2013, I updated the criteria governing the use of the royal prerogative, which allows the Government to cancel the passports of those planning to travel to engage in terrorist-related activity overseas, and in 2014 I removed 24 passports from people intending to travel for terrorism-related activity. Last year, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act provided new powers to deal specifically with the problem of foreign fighters and to prevent radicalisation. This included a new power to temporarily seize the passports of those suspected of intending to leave the UK in connection with terrorism-related activity. These powers have been used on more than 20 occasions and in some cases have led to longer-term disruptive action such as use of the royal prerogative to permanently cancel a British passport. In November, we published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny.

Since April last year, exit checks have been in place on all international commercial scheduled air, sea and rail services using the UK. The information this provides is

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already supporting our intelligence work, enabling us to make appropriate interventions. In addition, the UK has joined the European watch list system—so-called SIS II—meaning we are now alerted when any individual is stopped at a border checkpoint or by police anywhere in Europe and is checked against the system. Through our Prevent and Channel programmes we are working to protect people from being drawn into terrorism. In partnership with industry, we are working to secure the removal of extremist videos through the police counter terrorism internet referral unit. They are currently securing the removal of around 1,000 pieces of unlawful terrorist-related content every week.

It is clear that Daesh will continue to try and poison minds, and to hurt people in Europe and other parts of the world. We must not let that happen and we stand with all those who want to stop it. Time and again we have seen people of all faiths and backgrounds join together and demonstrate their opposition to terror, and their stand for democracy and freedom. Britain will not be intimidated by Daesh, and together we will defeat it.

5.16 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab): As the Home Secretary has just said, people will have been sickened to see images from the latest Daesh video on their television screens last night. What makes it even more disturbing are the British voices in the video and reports that one of them is a UK national who absconded to Syria while on police bail for terrorism-related offences. Clearly, something has gone seriously wrong. People will rightly want to know how on earth this could possibly have happened and will want reassurance that steps are in hand to prevent a repeat

The Home Secretary has not provided that today. I do appreciate that there is a limit to what she can say, but she is only saying anything at all because we applied for an urgent question that was upgraded by the Government into this statement. I believe the public are owed more than that so I want to set out the questions that she will need to answer, if not today, then over the coming days and weeks, both on the specifics and the wider implications of this case.

I will deal first with the case itself and the reports concerning Mr Siddhartha Dhar. Whether or not he is the person in the video does not matter; the system has failed because it allowed him to abscond to Syria, and it is the system’s failings I want to focus on, rather than the identities of people in the video. He was well known to the authorities having been arrested six times on terror-related offences before being placed on police bail in 2014 and asked to surrender his passport. It was when he failed to comply with those bail conditions that it emerged he had absconded. This brings me to my first question: can the Home Secretary tell the House when she was first made aware that this individual had absconded? Did she order an inquiry at that time, and if she did, can she tell us what it revealed and what immediate action she took to tighten up procedures? If she did not order a review, can she say why she did not do so? Was he placed on a watch list and, if so, when? If not, why not?

At the heart of this case is the system of police bail for people arrested for terrorism-related activity and whether it offers the potential for loopholes. Can the

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Home Secretary tell the House whether the authorities followed the correct procedures between arrest and the bail hearing?

Even if the correct procedures were followed, I have evidence that they were far too weak. I have here the letter sent to Dhar setting out his bail conditions after he was bailed on 26 September 2014. It reminds him that he was due to surrender his travel documents by 3 October 2014, but this letter was sent over a month later, on 7 November. Let me quote from the letter. It states: “It has come to our notice that condition number 3 has not been complied with, or so our records suggest. Are there any changes to your circumstances that the police need to be aware of? Could you please contact the police on the telephone number listed above as a matter of urgency?” Does that in any way sound like an adequate response to the seriousness of the charges? It is clear that Mr Dhar had left this country long before that letter was sent. As I have said, regardless of which individuals might be in the video, this particular individual has absconded and the Home Secretary needs to provide answers.

I turn now to the wider implications of this episode. Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many other individuals are currently on bail for terror-related offences? Is she satisfied that their bail conditions and the monitoring of those individuals are adequate? Is this the only example of an individual absconding while on police bail, or are there others? On the question of the passport, can she say whether, in cases of this type, the authorities should seize a passport immediately rather than waiting for it to be surrendered voluntarily?

Will the Home Secretary also tell us whether individuals in terrorism-related cases should immediately be placed on the watch-list for all airports and seaports at the point of arrest? There are also wider implications about border checks, and anecdotal reports suggest that people continue to be waved through at seaports. The Government committed to check all passports on exit from the UK by the end of the last Parliament. Has that been implemented? If every passport is not currently checked, when will the figure reach 100%? Even if Mr Dhar’s passport was not checked here, it should have been checked on arrival in the Schengen area. However, at the time he went through the border, the UK was not party to the Schengen Information System, which allows the sharing of our watch-lists across Europe, because the Home Secretary had delayed our participation in it. In retrospect, does she now accept that that delay was a mistake and that it weakened our security arrangements? Can she confirm that we are now playing our full part?

We know that the Border Force has undergone a huge upheaval since 2010, involving losing staff, and that it is today facing further cuts. Does the Home Secretary believe that the numbers of border staff are adequate to the meet the threat level and that further cuts will not leave us exposed?

In conclusion, we appreciate that this is an ongoing police investigation, but the fact that this individual could abscond while facing major charges raises serious questions about counter-terrorism policy. We need a commitment from the Home Secretary today that there will be an inquiry into this episode and that its findings will be made available to the House. There has clearly been a major lapse in security, and the onus now is very

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firmly on the Home Secretary to demonstrate that she is taking all the necessary action to strengthen our systems of monitoring people who pose a risk to our country.

Mrs May: The shadow Home Secretary has asked a number of questions. He is right to say that I will not comment on individual reports in the papers relating to the Daesh video. That is an ongoing investigation. An initial assessment has been made, and work on it is continuing. He asked further general questions about the conditions for police bail and on checks at the border. I assume that, as shadow Home Secretary, he knows that the decision whether to place someone on police bail, and the conditions relating to that bail, are operational matters. Those decisions are taken by the police. I seem to recall that when counter-terrorism legislation has gone through the House in the past, the official Opposition supported proposals from organisations outside the House that more use should be made of police bail for terrorist offenders.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about border checks and about whether the procedures had been tightened up. As I indicated in my statement, we have introduced exit checks. They are now taking place at the various ports of exit and in a variety of ways, according to how the information about someone’s exit is being held. We have introduced the checks and they are now providing support for our intelligence operations. He also talked about the border system that I referred to—the Schengen Information System II—suggesting that somehow this Government had delayed joining it. I seem to recall that SIS II was first proposed when the Labour party was in government, and that it was this Government—the coalition Government followed by this Government—who actually ensured that the UK went into SIS II and is now able to make use of it. We are looking across Europe to see how—I talk with my European counterparts about this—we can continue to enhance the use that can be made of SIS II. It is an important tool and we think there are ways in which we can make better use of it. We are discussing those and will be bringing them into place. We continually look to ensure that we can make any necessary moves to enhance our ability to deal with these issues, and we have done so—people can see the counter-terrorism legislation we have introduced in the past five years. We are continuing to do that, because we recognise our role and responsibility as a Government to keep people safe.

Mr Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): It seems to me that the one key issue that arises from this story is whether the Home Secretary is satisfied that there is an adequately rapid notification procedure following somebody being granted police bail and where the withdrawal of their passport is included, and in the event of a request that somebody surrender their passport if they appear in court. As long as those two things are now happening expeditiously, I venture the suggestion that the problem being talked about today is unlikely to recur through a mechanism of failure of notification. Having listened to the exaggerated froth that has come from Opposition Members this afternoon, I simply add that the single biggest change is the exit checks that my right hon. Friend is responsible for introducing.

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Mrs May: My right hon. and learned Friend is right about the importance of the exit checks that have been introduced. He asks about notification in relation to when the surrender of a passport is requested. Passports will be surrendered under different powers and in different circumstances so the whole process will be carried out on a case-by-case basis. For example, when a royal prerogative is being exercised a different process will potentially be used from when a police bail decision has been undertaken. In the latter case, it is up to the police to determine the speed with which it is necessary to remove the passport.

Angela Crawley (Lanark and Hamilton East) (SNP): The contents of this video are utterly abhorrent, and we hope that appropriate measures are taken to clarify the identity of this individual as swiftly and accurately as possible. A reasoned and proportionate response to this threat is essential. The Scottish National party is committed to supporting all efforts to counter terrorism and to working to safeguard the lives of citizens of this country. If someone has a passport removed as a condition of their bail, are additional options open to a judge to prevent that person from fleeing the country? What more could have been done or can be done in similar circumstances?

Mrs May: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments about the video, echoing the remarks that both I and the shadow Home Secretary made about the appalling and barbaric nature of not only the video, but the organisation of Daesh. She referred to bail that has been ordered by a judge, but of course bail will often be ordered by the police. If someone has not been charged with an offence, the police will determine their bail to return on a particular date and the conditions applied to that bail. As I have indicated, there are a number of processes whereby other measures can be taken. For example, if the police determine at the port, under the new powers that we have introduced, that somebody’s passport should be temporarily removed for further investigation, that can lead to its permanent removal through a royal prerogative being exercised or to other action being taken. The exercise of a terrorism prevention and investigation measure—a TPIM—can also contain measures aimed at preventing an individual from travelling. All of these decisions as to which powers should be exercised are taken on a case-by-case basis.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I have formed an impression from media coverage, which may not be accurate, that a disproportionate number of violent Islamist extremists are converts to the Muslim faith. Is there any basis for that impression and, if there is, has any analysis been done about the way in which these people were converted in the first place?

Mrs May: I am not aware of any figures that show overall what proportion of jihadists have previously been allied to another faith and have converted to Islam. It is certainly the case that there have been reports in the press, obviously recently but also previously, of individuals who have converted to Islam. A lot of work has been done and continues to be done on this whole question of how people are triggered into radicalisation and terrorist activity. In most cases, a number of factors come together that lead to an individual

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becoming radicalised, potentially to the point of undertaking violence. What we do with our counter-radicalisation programmes, particularly with Prevent and Channel, is aim to interrupt that process and stop people who have started down that route to radicalisation.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I am asking not about the vile video that the Home Secretary has rightly condemned, but about Siddhartha Dhar and the factual questions that have been raised. Will she tell the House when she was told that he had absconded, whether she asked for an inquiry and also whether the Home Office holds figures on the number of people who abscond while on police bail for terrorist offences?

Mrs May: I said that I would not speak about the individual who has been named in the press. I apologise to the shadow Home Secretary, because he did ask me about the number of people who have absconded while on police bail for terrorist offences. Those figures are not collected. Figures are collected for the number of people who are convicted of failing to surrender to bail, but those are not separated into those who have undertaken terrorist offences.

Mr Keith Simpson (Broadland) (Con): My right hon. Friend has been working closely with her opposite numbers in the EU—Ministers of the Interior and so on. Will she update the House on what further co-operation is now taking place given the fact that, over the past six months, there have been a number of incidents in which intelligence exchange has obviously failed?

Mrs May: My right hon. Friend has raised an important issue. There has been considerable progress recently in looking at the exchange of information between intelligence services around the European Union. I am talking about not just the exchange of intelligence that takes place between intelligence services, but the role of Europol. I have been talking with my opposite numbers specifically about a better exchange of information on criminal records, including terrorism offence records, further to enhance our ability to identify people who may pose a threat and to take the appropriate action. As I said earlier in response to the shadow Home Secretary, we are also looking at how the SIS II system can be improved to ensure that maximum information is available and dealt with properly.

Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): The Home Secretary is aware of the fact that Daesh is probably the most media-savvy terrorist group that ever existed. It is very welcome that, through a combination of the police and their partners in the industry, 1,000 pieces of content are taken down every week, but for that to happen those pieces of content must have been put up in the first place. Will she undertake to ask the internet providers to monitor more closely content going up so that it does not get on there in the first place?

Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. A number of initiatives are already taking place. In the UK, we hold a regular dialogue with the internet service providers. In December, the European Commission brought together EU Interior Ministers with representatives from some of the major internet service providers to discuss precisely those issues about how we can better prevent material from getting

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on to the internet in the first place and ensure that that material can be taken down. Here in the UK, we have had a long-standing view—across both the previous Labour Government and this Government—that we should work with the internet service providers to encourage them to use their terms and conditions as far as possible to remove material so that it is not available to promote that sort of propaganda.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): A key part of our counter-terrorism narrative is that in the United Kingdom we respect religious freedom, which makes even more disturbing the increasing reports of verbal and physical assaults on ladies who wear a veil or hijab while out shopping or taking their children to school, so can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will carefully monitor the number of such incidents and the effectiveness of the police’s response?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend, too, raises an important point and I can assure him that through the reports to Tell MAMA we look at the instances of Islamophobia that take place, as well as looking at the instances of anti-Semitic incidents that take place. We are committed to ensuring that police will now record hate crime which has an Islamophobic element to it so that we can get a better understanding of exactly what is taking place.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The Home Secretary is aware that the terror threat was already “severe”, which means that a terrorist attack is highly likely. In view of the content of this vile video and the imminence of the first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, has she put in place better protection for UK media, institutions and citizens against an attack within the UK?

Mrs May: We constantly look at the measures that we need to take here in the United Kingdom to protect against an attack. Following the Charlie Hebdo attack, discussions were held by the police with various media outlets to discuss with them their security. Of course, following the terrible attacks that took place in Paris on 13 November last year, we have looked further at the whole question of protective security. The right hon. Lady is right—the current national terrorist threat level is at “severe”—a terrorist attack is highly likely. The decision as to what that threat level should be is a matter for the independent joint terrorism analysis centre.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): In 2014 I was very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for increasing Prevent funding to Crawley constituency. Can she give assurances to the House that she will continue those efforts to ensure that young British Muslims are not tempted by the vile and sick propaganda of Daesh that she has rightly condemned?

Mrs May: I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. We have taken a number of steps in relation to an uplift in Prevent funding that is taking place. Also, an important step that we took was putting the Prevent duty on a statutory basis. From everything I have heard, I think that is already having an impact out there and ensuring increasingly that those in the public sector who come into contact with young people and others, but particularly young people, are looking to spot the signs that somebody may be being taken down the route of radicalisation, and to take appropriate action.

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Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The House will understand and accept the Home Secretary’s concerns about interfering in a live police investigation, but she must surely accept that the information that is already in the public domain risks undermining public confidence in the police bail system. She or somebody in the police service today or some other time will have to give the information to the public to assure that there is no risk as a result of the operation of that system. The videos that we are concerned with today are—it is almost trite to say it—abhorrent and horrific, but they are merely the symptom of the wider disease of radicalisation. It is believed by many people that the radicalisation process is funded from sources in Saudi Arabia. Will the Home Secretary undertake today to investigate whether that is the case and, if it is, will she undertake to do what is necessary to shut off that source of funding?

Mrs May: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point about looking at the source of funding for extremism and terrorism here in the United Kingdom. There is a specific piece of work that we will be undertaking, which the Prime Minister referred to when he gave his statement to the House in November in relation to Syria. That will be done through the extremism analysis unit that has been set up in the Home Office, looking specifically at the funding of the extremism here in the United Kingdom.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I appreciate the work of the security services and the police in dealing with counter-terrorism. Clearly a great deal of their work is focused on overseas issues and security within the capital. Can the Home Secretary assure me that she is confident that enough counter-terrorism work is being done to ensure the safety and security of the British people in other cities and towns up and down the country?

Mrs May: I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that counter-terrorism units exist not just in London, but elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Following the Paris attacks last November, a piece of work has been started—we are now finessing it—in relation to armed police response, looking across the United Kingdom to ensure that we have the appropriate numbers of trained armed officers in the right places.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Of course, the Home Secretary has form when it comes to absconding. Can she update the House on the current whereabouts of Ibrahim Magog, who absconded in a black cab in January 2013? Can she update the House on the whereabouts of Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, who absconded wearing a burqa in November 2013? Both were on terrorism prevention orders at the time, under the instruction of the Home Secretary.

Mrs May: It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman chooses to speak about previous absconds, because I seem to recall that seven people absconded under the Labour Government’s control orders, only one of whom was ever found.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): The Home Secretary quite rightly said that there has been enhanced funding for the security and intelligence services, but may I ask—this adds to the point my hon. Friend the

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Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) made—that those extra resources and armed response units also go to our regional towns and cities, not just the capital?

Mrs May: As I indicated in response to our hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson), the work that we are undertaking looks across the country at what is appropriate for armed response availability and response times. There will be an uplift in the number of armed officers within the police. As I have said, the exercise is looking precisely at how that should be done and where those officers should be, and it is not only looking at London.

Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) (DUP): I thank the Home Secretary for yet again putting clear blue water between our fellow Muslim countrymen and those who are extremists and involved in terrorism within this country. To reinforce that point, does she accept that it would be better to pursue counter-extremism and counter-terrorism right across the country, irrespective of geographic location, race or creed? With that in mind, are there any aspects of the counter-extremism strategy that could be operated in Northern Ireland?

Mrs May: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the confidence he has shown in the counter-extremism strategy and in the work that we have developed and are developing on counter-extremism. As he knows, we have had discussions with the devolved Administrations on how the strategy should apply in those parts of the United Kingdom, particularly Northern Ireland and Scotland. Of course, work is already undertaken in Northern Ireland, in a separate strand of action, and that has been shown to be very valuable. Obviously, as he will be aware, at the moment the counter-extremism strategy that we are developing does not apply to Northern Ireland.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Internet-based propaganda does a huge amount to radicalise and brainwash people living in the UK into planning atrocities or travelling abroad to fight. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the additional resources invested in our security services, including GCHQ, which is based in my constituency, significantly enhance our ability to hunt that material down and remove it?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Importantly, we have enhanced the resources going into our security and intelligence agencies. He of course has a particular interest in GCHQ, given his constituency. The work being done there is very important, not just because of the information and intelligence that might be helpful in counter-terrorism, but because of what is done there to counter the cyber-security threat we face.

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Many people in Waltham Forest are extremely shocked at the possibility that someone who lived in our community could be involved in atrocities. They would want me to make it clear that we do not consider that he represents either our community or Islam, and we condemn utterly his ideals and actions. However, the Home Secretary will also be aware that there are growing concerns that innocent individuals and families may be unfairly caught up in the activities necessary to keep our country safe. Will she meet me and other MPs representing those UK citizens who have been denied the right to travel to

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discuss their experiences and how we can reassure them that efforts to tackle terrorism are based on good intelligence and effective partnership, not prejudice?

Mrs May: First of all, I thank the hon. Lady for the remarks she made about Waltham Forest in her constituency and her constituents’ condemnation of the barbaric activities of Daesh and anybody involved in them.

The hon. Lady asks me about the whole question of those who have been denied the opportunity to travel through the exercise of the royal prerogative. If she wishes to bring up particular cases, I am sure that the Minister for Security will be happy to meet her. But I have to say to her that on the one hand her party’s Front Benchers are encouraging us to exercise greater powers and make greater use of the power to prevent people from travelling while she is indicating concern about it. They ought to get their story straight.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): One of the chilling aspects of the latest Daesh video is the exploitation of a very young child. On the issue of the radicalisation of children, what progress is being made by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education on ensuring that all madrassahs are registered and that all of them, even those that are unregistered, are monitored in order to safeguard our national security and our national way of life?

Mrs May: We have been working with the Department for Education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been developing proposals for the registration of madrassahs, starting with those providing a certain length of time of more formalised teaching. Action is under way in relation to that particular issue.

My hon. Friend raises a matter that concerns many people about children involved in Daesh in Iraq and Syria—children who may be taken away by their families and taken abroad to that environment. In the last year, in a significant number of instances, court powers have been used to prevent families from going abroad. This is quite simply a safeguarding issue and local authorities are increasingly looking at the issue and taking action.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): When was the Home Secretary told that Siddhartha Dhar had breached his police bail conditions? What actions did she take as a consequence of that information?

Mrs May: I have been asked this question before and have said that I am not giving indications in the Chamber today about any particular individual. Decisions about whether somebody should be on police bail are taken by the police. They decide the conditions of police bail, and that is as it has always been.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Many of my constituents tell me that they are not particularly perturbed at radicalised extremists who are leaving the country, but they are very perturbed about them coming into the country. What could the Home Secretary tell us about what she is doing to make sure that these people are not allowed back into the country, whether they are British citizens or not?

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Mrs May: We have taken a number of increased powers in relation to people who may be coming into the country to do us harm. First of all, we put our no-fly scheme on a statutory basis in legislation that we passed early last year. We also introduced in that same legislation the new temporary exclusion orders, which enable us to manage the return of individuals of concern when they are British citizens and cannot be rendered stateless. Decisions on that are taken on a case-by-case basis.

We also enhanced the ability of the Government to remove British citizenship from those who might be in the position of having alternative citizenship. We have increased our ability to take citizenship away from those individuals when there is a concern about the threat they might pose to the United Kingdom.

Mr Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Further to the question by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, will the Home Secretary confirm what increase she has made in the number of Border Force staff to enable her to carry out full exit controls? When does she plan to have full controls for the people who are returning, and what implications will that have? How will she deal with the issue of biometric passports when people are returning on that basis?

Mrs May: For the benefit of the House, let me say that I think there are some inaccurate assumptions about the way in which exit checks are undertaken. It is not the case that every single exit check will be undertaken by a member of Border Force staff checking somebody’s passport as they go through a point of exit. A lot of this information comprises data that are being gathered electronically, and it is therefore not necessary for Border Force staff to be available to undertake that task.

Matt Warman (Boston and Skegness) (Con): As well as propaganda online, much planning for modern terrorism takes place on the internet. The Home Secretary mentioned the draft Investigatory Powers Bill. Will she reassure the House that she is determined to come to a workable arrangement with the major internet companies to make sure that there is no safe space online to plot terror?

Mrs May: Absolutely. We continue our discussions with the internet companies on a variety of aspects, not least the operation of the forthcoming Investigatory Powers Bill and elements within it. It is important that we work with the internet service providers, which have a very key role to play in this area in relation to propaganda that can appear on their systems and the response that they give to warrantry requests from the authorities.

Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): The Home Secretary will be aware of concerns I have had for a number of years about exit checks, following the worrying situation in which an individual known to the security services was able to travel with a passport from my constituency to Syria. Will she be absolutely clear on the point about exit checks? Are all individuals leaving the UK through a port of exit by commercial means being checked electronically at the point of exit on their passport, yes or no, and if not, why is that not being considered?

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Mrs May: As I have indicated, the way in which the information is being taken varies from port of exit to port of exit. Some of the information in relation to flights, for example, is the advance passenger information that is available to the authorities and has been for some time. At other ports a specific swipe of a passport will be taken. All this information is being held electronically.

James Berry (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it was quite right to conduct a review of the operation of the Prüm convention before deciding to opt into that convention before Christmas? Does she agree that cases like the one that the House is discussing today show why that was exactly the right decision?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is right to point out that it was a sensible approach to look at a proper business case for going into Prüm so that we were not just making a decision based on no evidence. It was clear from the evidence available to us that there were advantages to Prüm, and I am glad to say that an overwhelming majority of Members of this House supported it. It is indeed absolutely right and it will be a very valuable tool for us.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I am not asking about the correctness of the decision to bail Dhar, but what I would like to know is this: did the Home Secretary learn from Home Office officials, from the police or from the media that he had absconded?

Mrs May: I think there is somehow, somewhere, a view on the Opposition Benches that Home Secretaries spend all their time scouring the media, or indeed anything else, looking at individual cases. As I said earlier, decisions as to whether somebody should be put on police bail are operational matters for the police. I receive regular security briefings from the police and from the security and intelligence agencies on individuals of concern and on high-priority cases.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I welcome what the Home Secretary has said about the Government’s work to stop Daesh poisoning young people’s minds with its perverted ideology. Will she join me in praising community groups across the UK, including Building Bridges Pendle in my constituency, for their great work on community and inter-faith cohesion?

Mrs May: It is absolutely right that across the United Kingdom many groups are working very carefully and

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very hard within communities to build bridges within their various faith communities. I commend Building Bridges Pendle, the organisation in my hon. Friend’s constituency. One of the elements of the counter-extremism strategy that we are developing is precisely to try to find ways in which we can help those community groups to further enhance the work that they are doing to increase their voice so it is the mainstream voice that is heard.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I think the House, and maybe even the public, might be interested to know what interest the Home Secretary thinks she is protecting by refusing to tell us when she was advised that Siddhartha Dhar had absconded and whether she did anything about it.

Mrs May: I am not protecting any interests.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con): Daesh represents such a serious threat largely because of its widespread use of technology and social media to radicalise people in their bedrooms, on their smartphones, covertly but sadly compellingly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our security services and police need special powers to collect internet connection records and bulk communication data to protect the nation’s security and stay ahead of the terrorists in this complex environment?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend puts her point extremely well and she is absolutely right. It is important that we are able to access these internet connection records and to have the powers that we are hoping to introduce in the Investigatory Powers Bill. It is entirely right that the Government should continually look to see what further measures we need to take to enhance the powers of the police and security and intelligence agencies to keep us safe, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Given recent events, will the Home Secretary let us know when we will finally have the counter-extremism strategy?

Mrs May: I am not able to give an absolute date for the hon. Lady, but I hope to be in a position to be able to—[Interruption.] In fact, the counter-extremism strategy has been published, and we are now looking at the question of the legislation that we would undertake through it. The specific piece of work by Louise Casey on the cohesion of communities will not be available for some weeks, or potentially months, because it is ongoing. I would hope to be able to update the House soon on any legislative proposals.

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5.57 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Elizabeth Truss): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the impact of Storm Eva, which brought flooding to the north of England between Christmas and the new year. I want to express my deepest sympathy for all those who have been affected across the UK. The Prime Minister, Ministers and I have visited the affected towns and communities and seen for ourselves the terrible impact that this flooding has had on homes and businesses in Lancashire and Yorkshire.  I pay tribute to the tireless work of the emergency services, the military, the Environment Agency, council workers and other responders and volunteers. Many people have not had time with their families over Christmas, and they came from as far afield as Norfolk and Somerset.

The Met Office confirmed today that we have had the wettest December in a century. In fact, the north-west faced the wettest December on record. Later in the month, rain fell on saturated ground, meaning that all the rivers in Lancashire were at record levels, and Yorkshire rivers such as the Aire and the Wharfe were up to 1 metre higher than they have ever been. This resulted in the flooding of about 9,000 properties, which, together with the earlier flooding in Cumbria, brings the total to about 16,000 flooded properties in England. While of little consolation to those who have been flooded, it is important to note that flood defences have protected over 20,000 properties from being flooded during December.

In order to deal with the forecast rainfall, I convened Cobra meetings on 23 December and on Christmas day. The Environment Agency, emergency services and the Army worked through the night deploying temporary defences, rescue boats and pumps, and warning and informing residents.

On Boxing day, I chaired a further Cobra meeting to assess the impacts and ensure that local responders were receiving all the support required to deal with a situation of that scale and gravity. That day, I travelled to Yorkshire and Lancashire with the chief executive of the Environment Agency, Sir James Bevan, to ensure that all that could be done was being done.

The Prime Minister chaired a Cobra meeting on 27 December and visited Yorkshire. About 600 military personnel were deployed in support of the operations, with a further 1,000 on standby. The RAF played a vital role in delivering power generators to the Foss barrier in York and repairing defences in Croston in Lancashire, using a Chinook helicopter.

Since Storm Eva passed, our focus has been on doing everything we can to help Yorkshire and Lancashire get back up and running. The Prime Minister announced that £40 million would be spent on repairing defences, including £10 million on upgrading the Foss barrier with new pumps to ensure that it can cope with higher volumes of water. We are providing £60 million of help for local residents, businesses and farmers. That help has been provided in record time. Storm Eva took place on 26 December and we made the first payments to local authorities on 29 December so that they can help businesses and residents straight away.

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The speedy repair of the Tadcaster bridge is a national priority. Once we have identified a solution, the funding needed will be provided promptly. The flood recovery envoy for Yorkshire—the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill)—will convene a meeting in the coming days with local authorities, wider local representatives and Highways England experts, with the aim of finalising a plan early next week that can be put immediately into action. That will complement the work of the floods Minister and floods envoy to Cumbria and Lancashire, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart).

Work is already under way on our six-year programme to upgrade flood defences. This investment of £2.3 billion is a real-terms increase on what was spent in the last Parliament, which itself was a real-terms increase on what was spent between 2005 and 2010. It includes £280 million in Yorkshire and £120 million in Lancashire. In January 2015, work commenced on a new £33 million scheme to protect the centre of Leeds, and projects for the Humber, Rossall and Calderdale are in the pipeline.

In the light of recent events, we have commenced a national flood resilience review to ensure that the country can deal with increasingly extreme weather events. The review will look at forecasting and modelling, resilience of key infrastructure and the way we make decisions about flood expenditure. In particular, we will ensure that the Leeds scheme would cope with the new levels of rainfall we are now seeing. The work of the Natural Capital Committee, to which I have reappointed Dieter Helm as chair, will complement that. It will further develop the catchment-based approach we are now using for our environment planning, including slowing the flow upstream.

I am sure the whole House will join me in expressing our sincere sympathy to those who have been affected by these extreme weather conditions and subsequent flooding. The Government will continue to do what it takes to get those areas up and running and prepare for future events. I commend this statement to the House.

6.3 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it. I join her in paying tribute to the emergency services and armed forces, to the efforts of the many Environment Agency and local authority staff who came back from their leave over the festive period, and to the many volunteers who helped.

Last week, I visited the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for Halifax (Holly Lynch) and the neighbouring Calder Valley constituency. It is difficult to convey the devastation in those communities, but our sympathy is not enough. The urgent priority, of course, is to ensure that people have a roof over their heads and can return to their own homes as soon as possible; that businesses, schools, and other local services can reopen as soon as possible; and that the infrastructure is repaired and restored.

Each time this happens we are assured that the Government will learn the lessons, so I have a few questions for the Secretary of State. Why did the

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Government choose to ignore warnings from the Committee on Climate Change that they needed a strategy for the increasing number of homes at flood risk, and the warning from the Association of Drainage Authorities that the cuts had put homes and businesses at risk? What action did the Secretary of State take in October after Professor Colin Mellors warned that the authorities in Yorkshire would have to look at where to discontinue maintenance because of cuts? Flood-hit communities will also want to know why the national flood resilience review was not instigated earlier.

How is the public to have confidence in another Cabinet Committee chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin)? What happened to his last one, which was set up after the Somerset floods and then disappeared? Does the Secretary of State agree that it needs to be an independent review in order to have any credibility?

If flood protections are a priority, why did the coalition Government set out to cut flood spending by 10%, and why are this Government spending less this year than was spent in 2010, when, as Pitt warned, year-on-year real-terms increases are needed to keep up with the growing risk?

The Secretary of State has told us repeatedly about the £2.3 billion capital budget over six years. Is she satisfied that it takes into account the impact of previous capital cuts and cancelled schemes and that it is enough, given that the Government have underestimated the climate change risk? Will she finally address the revenue budget? We still have no firm commitment on maintenance spending beyond protecting an inadequate budget.

The Secretary of State is hoping to step over a £2.5 billion hole in the maintenance budget. Are the Government going to commit to investing the £800 million a year in the maintenance and strengthening of flood defences that the Environment Agency has said is required to protect our communities? Every £1 spent on flood prevention saves £8. The Secretary of State needs to remind the Chancellor of that.

I note that the Secretary of State did not mention the EU solidarity fund. I would be grateful if she could clarify why the Government have so far not applied to it.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s mention of the natural environment, which must be central to any efforts to reduce flooding, but I have yet to be convinced that the Government are undertaking the “complete rethink” that the Environment Agency has said we need. I would be grateful if she could tell us more about how she will work with landowners and managers on those upstream measures that are so badly needed.

Rather than a sticking plaster response every time the floods hit, with vague promises and random numbers that are forgotten by spring, we need a long-term, co-ordinated approach. Our priority must be making sure that communities in flood-risk areas across the whole country do not endure another Christmas like this one, and that needs leadership from the Secretary of State now.

Elizabeth Truss: First, we have learned lessons from previous flooding incidents. That is why we were holding Cobra meetings throughout Christmas and deployed

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the Army immediately to support people on the ground, and made sure that people’s homes and lives were protected and that 85% of all of the temporary flood assets were deployed in Yorkshire in Lancashire in the immediate rescue effort. That was extremely important.

We have also learned the lessons in terms of supporting communities and those people who have been out of their houses. I saw for myself the devastation. I saw the Christmas presents by the side of the street and the very difficult circumstances that people are in. That is why, within three days, we had money in the local authorities’ bank accounts so that they could help those communities get back on their feet.

The hon. Lady talks about the long term. The fact is that under the Labour Government there was an annual budget process for flood defence spending. They spent £1.5 billion when they were in government between 2005 and 2010; we are spending £2 billion over the course of this Parliament. For the first time ever, we have set out a long-term programme of six years so that those communities can have the security they need. That is why we are already building new flood defences in Leeds and planting trees right across the country to help slow the flow. Those things require long-term decision making and adequate funding. The fact that this Government have a long-term economic plan means that we have been able to invest in our flood defences and that we are able to lay out the long-term programme.

The hon. Lady asked about maintenance spending. We are increasing it in real terms. The Chancellor announced that in the autumn statement. It is £171 million and it will go up in real terms.

We are also empowering local communities. We have set up the Somerset Rivers Authority, to which the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has given shadow precepting powers. We are also working on a Cumbrian floods partnership, to make sure that the local community is involved. We are taking a long-term approach to dealing with these problems, rather than engaging in short-term point scoring.

We have responded to the emergency very rapidly and learned the lessons of the past. People are able to get the funds to repair their homes and get back into them. That is what is important.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): I am very grateful to the Secretary of State, the floods Minister, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Prime Minister for visiting the Selby district following the dreadful floods and for offering help and support.

The Secretary of State saw for herself last week the aftermath of the partial collapse of Tadcaster bridge. I am delighted that she has reiterated that its replacement and repair are a national priority. I have been in regular contact with North Yorkshire highways department and North Yorkshire County Council, and I know that they have been considering all the options for a temporary solution across the Wharf. Will she join me in urging North Yorkshire highways to ensure that a solution is put in place as a matter of urgency and to ensure that it has the necessary funding to do that? It also needs the

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funding to start the repair of the collapsed bridge, which apparently may take up to year, without delay, so that the residents of east and west Tadcaster are reunited.

Elizabeth Truss: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work he has done to support his local community in Tadcaster. I visited local businesses with him. We saw the Army, which was there to help out, and a massive group of volunteers helping out. I know that people there are desperate to put the town together again so that people can cross over to the other part. That is an absolute priority for the Government. The floods envoy, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), who is sitting on the Front Bench, is charged with coming up with a plan early next week to ensure that we get the bridge in place as soon as possible.

Calum Kerr (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (SNP): I, too, pay tribute to the emergency services, volunteers, local authorities and others who worked tirelessly over the holiday period to protect homes and help families left devastated by the floods. Scotland was hit extremely hard, but my SNP colleagues and I fully appreciate that devastation was caused right across the UK. Our sympathies are with everyone who has been affected.

The Scottish Government take flood prevention very seriously. However, as we have seen, exceptional rainfall still presents huge challenges. The reduced financial award made to Scotland by the Government has forced Ministers in Edinburgh to make difficult decisions. As a result of the cutbacks, the grant in aid provided to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has been reduced by 6%. However, Scottish Ministers have ensured that the flood forecasting service, which is undertaken by SEPA, has had its funding protected in its entirety. It is important to make it crystal clear that flood prevention is not a SEPA responsibility. North of the border, local authorities are responsible for it as part of their capital settlement. Councils have historically received strong support from the Scottish Government.

The Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament in 2009 and a further 42 protection schemes are proposed between now and 2021. On top of that, an extra £4 million has been directed to support flood-hit householders, businesses and councils, including in my borders constituency. Of course, the Bellwin scheme has also been activated. All in all, that is a comprehensive response.

There certainly seems to be—[Interruption.] As the third party, we are entitled to make a statement. So far, we have heard no mention of Scotland. There certainly seems to be less scepticism about the actions of the public agencies in Scotland than in England. At the weekend, I received an email from my cousin Kirsty, who lives in Yorkshire. She told me that her community felt angry and powerless at what it saw as a completely ineffective response. Her message said:

“The Tory government have completely failed us. And I believe they will continue to fail us. If it’s not in London or the Home Counties, they don’t care.”

That is not the response felt in Scotland—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman by making two points. I am being very fair-minded about this. First, as he is representing the

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third party, he certainly does have—and rightly has—longer than Back Benchers. That has always been the case and will always be the case. I will protect his rights and those of his colleagues.

Secondly, although the hon. Gentleman probably used it as a figure of speech, he certainly does not have a right to make a statement. What he has a right to do, at slightly greater length than other colleagues, is to make some opening remarks by way of response to the Secretary of State, but those need to be followed speedily by a series of questions. All that needs to take no more than two minutes—[Interruption.] Order. He has taken considerably longer than that.

These are very sensitive matters and I have no desire to spoil the hon. Gentleman’s opportunity today, but he does need to get to his questions and briefly to get through them.

Calum Kerr: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that guidance. It is appreciated.

The scepticism that I have outlined is in sharp contrast to the response we have experienced in Scotland. Friends of the Earth Scotland is one organisation that agrees that flooding is a higher political priority north of the border.

Given the Scottish Government’s response, I ask the Secretary of State to reflect on Scotland’s experience and on our comprehensive approach to flood prevention to see whether there are lessons for her. Finally, will she assure my cousin Kirsty and communities like hers that the Government really do care?

Elizabeth Truss: As the House is aware, this is a devolved matter. We have worked closely with the Scottish authorities to share information and expertise while the floods are happening.

We are doing all we can to help the people of Yorkshire get back on their feet as soon as possible. That is why the financial support was made available within three days of the flooding taking place. I wonder what the record is in Scotland.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I pay tribute to the emergency services, the Army, the Environment Agency, York City Council and the huge number of volunteers for the speed with which they acted and worked together across York at a very difficult time for our city. However, other utilities were slightly slower to act. Telecommunications were down in York, which hindered communications right across the city. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that all utilities act speedily and with urgency?

Elizabeth Truss: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done to raise the concerns of local residents. It was good to meet him at the Environment Agency’s headquarters in York to talk about the situation. Telecommunications are critical. One issue has been that bridges, such as Tadcaster bridge and Elland bridge, carry critical communications infrastructure. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is part of the Cobra meetings and we have expedited getting those services back up and running.

Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab): My constituency of Halifax and the neighbouring constituency of Calder Valley were devastated by the floods on Boxing day.

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Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the army of volunteers that came to Calderdale and played an instrumental role in the clean-up? Will she meet me and representatives of Calderdale Council to discuss the bridges and infrastructure projects that have just been mentioned, which will be essential in getting Calderdale back up and running?

Elizabeth Truss: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Calder Valley was very badly affected. We have schemes in the pipeline for Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. I will ensure that those are sufficient as part of the review we are conducting. The Secretary of State for Transport is conducting a review of all the affected infrastructure to make sure we get back on track. The hon. Lady can rest assured that Elland is definitely on our list.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Elland and Brighouse are five of the six Calder Valley communities that were not just hit by floods but, in some cases, decimated by them—and this just three and a half years after the last floods. More than 2,000 homes have been hit. Despite the pain and misery, will the Secretary of State join me and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) in paying a huge tribute not just to dozens of volunteers, but to the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who came from all over the UK? May I, in the light of the current undertones of Islamophobia in our country, pay an incredibly special tribute to the small armies of young Asian men and women—Muslim, Sikh and Hindu—who came with mops, buckets, food, vans, lifting materials and all sorts, and played a huge part in the recovery?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question—we talked on Boxing day because the Calder valley was such a hard-hit area, and ensuring that the right support was in place for those communities was vital. He is right to highlight the community spirit that we saw across Yorkshire and the Calder valley; and people came out around the country. That was tremendous, and I praise them for all their work.

Rachael Maskell (York Central) (Lab/Co-op): I thank public sector workers and the incredible volunteers for the outstanding support that they gave residents and businesses in York over Christmas. Successive reports over many years by the Environment Agency and the city council have highlighted the risk that the Foss barrier in York would not be able to manage the capacity of water in the River Foss at times such as this. Given that that concern has been consistently highlighted for years, why were the barrier pumps not upgraded, as that could have saved hundreds of homes and businesses from flooding?

Elizabeth Truss: I was also pleased to meet the hon. Lady at the Environment Agency’s offices in York. The Foss barrier was under review at the time the incident happened, and the Prime Minister has said that he will spend £10 million of Government money on upgrading that barrier to ensure that it has sufficient pumping capacity to deal with the additional volumes. In all rivers across Yorkshire and Lancashire we are facing higher river flows than we have ever seen before, and we

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must consider our defences in light of that. We have made an initial commitment to upgrade the pumps at the Foss barrier, and we will certainly look more widely to ensure that we are sufficiently resilient to deal with these new weather challenges.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I ask my right hon. Friend in the review that she is carrying out to ignore one piece of work and to read two other pieces? In the previous Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee published a report that more or less trashed the Pitt review, which is a really good piece of work. May I first suggest that she builds into her review, “Droughts and Floods: Towards a More Holistic Approach” by the UK Water Partnership? Secondly, Dieter Helm, whom she just referred to, has produced a paper that arrived in my inbox today called, “Flood defence: time for a radical rethink”. His words about natural capital and the need to consider whole catchments is fundamental to understanding the weather patterns that we now have to cope with.

Elizabeth Truss: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work as floods Minister. He is right, and the same paper from Dieter Helm arrived in my inbox today—I have read it and I think it makes some excellent suggestions. We have appointed Dieter as chair of the Natural Capital Committee for another term so that he can look at catchment-specific solutions. That is a very important part of how we become more resilient as a country.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): In 2011, the £180 million flood defence scheme that was planned for Leeds which would have protected businesses in Kirkstall was cut by the Secretary of State’s predecessor. The new scheme planned for Leeds, which will be completed by 2017, will protect only the city from a once-in-75-years event, and will do nothing for businesses on the Kirkstall Road. Will she look again at that resilience review, and ensure that the £60 million scheme for the Kirkstall Road is included?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Lady for her question, but I point out that the Labour party’s proposal going into the 2010 election was to halve the amount that it would spend on capital spending. We increased spending on flood defence from £1.5 billion to £1.7 billion in that period. I have already said that I will look at the Leeds scheme to ensure that it is sufficiently resilient for the new conditions that we are facing, and I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues to discuss that further.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I declare an interest, because I live 15 feet from the River Aire, and I spent Boxing day onwards sandbagged in my house, as did many of my neighbours. I thank the Secretary of State for her telephone call and her concern for my constituency. As the most flood-prone area of Britain, we have been hit repeatedly, although this time we were a little better off. Will my right hon. Friend give me two assurances? First, will she assure me that in any review, the flood defence funding that has been announced for the Humber estuary and tidal tributaries will remain in place and not be affected? Secondly, can we consider the whole policy of the EA, which seems to be about moving water as quickly as possible from the upper

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catchment down to people in the lower catchment in my area? We are already below sea level—water has to be pumped daily, and we need to be defended by banks that are 10 feet or higher.

Elizabeth Truss: I was happy to speak to my hon. Friend and ensure that he had sufficient sandbags in his area. I agree that we need to consider catchment management, and that is what the Natural Capital Committee will be doing. We have already seen successful pilots such as the Slowing the Flow project in Pickering in Yorkshire, which was effective. We must ensure that we are putting such measures in the right places, which requires whole catchment management and analysis. That takes time, but I agree that it is an important piece of work that we must get on with.

Mr Speaker: It is a pleasure to welcome back the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves).

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): Thank you for that welcome, Mr Speaker.

The flood envoy for Yorkshire suggested in the Yorkshire Evening Post today that the scheme that would have protected Kirkstall will be reinstated, but that is not my understanding. Will the Secretary of State indicate whether that scheme will be resurrected? If it had been in place, businesses on the Kirkstall Road would not have been devastated by the floods on Boxing day. We can never allow that tragedy to happen again—what will the Minister do?

Elizabeth Truss: As I mentioned in my statement, levels of water on the River Aire were a metre higher than they have ever been—we have seen simply unprecedented river levels. In light of that, the Government will be reviewing the Leeds scheme to ensure that it is sufficient to protect businesses and communities in Leeds.

Seema Kennedy (South Ribble) (Con): On Boxing day my constituency suffered widespread flooding, with the village of Croston the worst affected. I pay tribute to all the emergency services, the Environment Agency and the Lower Yarrow Flood Action Group which pulled together an amazing effort to protect Croston. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be a review of river and watercourse maintenance across Lancashire, including in the constituency of my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans), and that dredging of rivers—where appropriate—will be part of that review?

Elizabeth Truss: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in ensuring that we had all the right information on the ground in Croston, and we had support from the RAF and the Environment Agency to keep the village protected. We are looking at the issue that she raises specifically in Cumbria, and I am sure that the floods Minister would be happy to meet her to talk about how we could extend those efforts to Lancashire.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Environment Secretary is aware that, of the 1,086 projects in the environment development programme, almost 519 are waiting for approval subject to securing other funding contributions. At the moment, the funding contributions

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that are lacking amount to £350 million, yet the projects are supposed to start in two months’ time. How will the Government ensure that those works go ahead?

Elizabeth Truss: One of the successes of our flood defence programme is that we have been able to secure additional money through partnership funding. From 2005 to 2010, we saw £30 million of funding under the Labour Government, whereas under the previous Conservative Government there was £134 million of funding, and this Government have already secured £250 million. We have plans in place to secure additional funding.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend ask the national flood resilience review to look at where we build houses? Increasingly, we are building them on floodplains and in areas local people know will flood. We are building up a bigger and bigger problem for the future. Will she ask the review to co-ordinate with the Department for Communities and Local Government on where to build houses in the future?

Elizabeth Truss: The Communities Secretary is here and I am sure he will take those points on board. The national planning policy framework makes it very clear that inappropriate development on floodplains should be avoided, but ultimately this is a decision for local people to make, as is the case throughout the planning system.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for advance copy of her statement, and for her activities and efforts, and those of her Ministers, over the Christmas period. They have not gone unnoticed. In paying tribute to the emergency services and voluntary outfits across the country, in particular mountain rescue services, we in Cumbria stand in solidarity and sympathy with all those in Yorkshire, Scotland and Lancashire who have suffered the brunt of this flooding.

It is a month today since Storm Desmond hit Cumbria, and there are many unresolved issues on which I wish to press the Secretary of State. The A591 north of Grasmere to Keswick remains closed, destroyed and impassable. Will she make this a national strategic priority and ensure that it is reopened as quickly as is humanly possible? The cost to Cumbria of infrastructure loss will be £500 million. Will the Government commit to fund every penny of that to make sure we get back on our feet? Will she commit to whole-system flood prevention measures, including the restoration of the River Kent flood defence scheme, which is currently shelved?

Elizabeth Truss: The A591 is a national priority. Highways England is working on that to restore it as soon as possible. That is extremely important. The Transport Secretary is here today, so I am sure he has taken that on board. Similarly, we will be looking at the funding of other infrastructure. The wider solutions are a priority for the Government, and the Natural Capital Committee is looking specifically at that. We are now developing our plans for the environment on a river basin and catchment basis. That is the way we look at

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the environment. We are not looking at it in silos of flooding, biodiversity or farming; we are looking at it altogether, as a single plan.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Fortunately, my constituency was not affected on this occasion, but my right hon. Friend will recall the tidal surge that caused major problems to residents and businesses, particularly in the strategically important port of Immingham. She mentioned allocations for the Humber. Will she give an absolute assurance that that will not slip? When does she think she will be in a position to give more detail on it?

Elizabeth Truss: In response to my hon. Friend’s question, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), that scheme is very much on track and we are absolutely committed to it.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The focus, understandably, has to be on how to make good the damage to lives and livelihoods. However, the Secretary of State mentioned Dieter Helm and his work. He said today:

“The most important single step to be taken now is an explicit recognition that the status quo is not only unsustainable, but is never likely to be sustainable. The worst reaction”—

to the current floods crisis—

“would be more of the same.”

Will she take on board the lessons that Dieter is suggesting, including the need to look at rivers as national infrastructure and to have genuine water catchment management, including land use modifications where appropriate? How deep will she go in her thinking about a radical review of the approach to flooding?

Elizabeth Truss: Dieter’s appointment was made mid-December, so we are currently working on the committee’s terms of reference for the next five years. Combining this with our 25-year plan for the environment, and making sure we are looking at things on the basis of river basins and water catchment, is a great priority. We need to spend Government money more effectively. We need to understand better the interactions between our environmental measures, flood risk and flood management. That is very important. This is not something that can be achieved overnight. It takes thinking over a number of years. Planting trees and putting in upstream measures takes time. Building up flood defences takes time. That is why it is also important that we have a very strong emergency response effort. We are thinking about those things for the long term, which is why we set out, for the first time ever, a six-year plan for flood defences. It is why we are working on a 25-year environment plan, so that that is in place for the future.

Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): I, too, pay tribute to all those who worked so hard to help the victims, particularly in reopening the roads and rail routes to Leeds which many of my constituents use. I am sure all Leeds colleagues would like to take the Secretary of State up on her offer to meet to discuss the Leeds scheme. In the meantime, the council has said that it could do with using the emergency funds to revise phases 2 and 3 of the Leeds scheme. Can she can confirm whether that would be possible?

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Elizabeth Truss: I would need to look into that, but I am extremely happy to include my hon. Friend in a meeting of Leeds MPs.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I am very grateful to the emergency services, the Army and Wakefield Council for turning out at all hours in Castleford, Ferrybridge and Kirkthorpe when floodwaters threatened. Will the Secretary of State confirm that her review will cover the entire Aire valley, including Leeds and Castleford? Does she now accept that her Government were wrong to cancel parts of the Leeds floods defence scheme? We would not tolerate, rightly, inadequate defences in our capital city. We should not tolerate inadequate defences in our northern cities and towns as well.

Elizabeth Truss: I completely agree with the right hon. Lady. Protecting cities such as Leeds is absolutely vital, which is why I have committed to looking at the current scheme and making sure it is adequate given the new levels of rainfall and rivers. It is important to note that in Yorkshire and the north and east region we will be investing £54 a head over the next six years, compared with £42 a head in the south-east region. We are investing more in the north and east of England. In fact, many schemes are happening in Yorkshire: the Humber has been mentioned, but there is also the scheme in Leeds.

Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I, too, would like to pay tribute to the countless number of people who gave up their Christmases, in an amazing display of selfless humanity, to help during the floods and with the mop-up that is still, of course, continuing. When the Secretary of State came to the Ribble valley with the chief executive of the Environment Agency, she not only saw the devastation but many people who do not have the luxury of choice between paying eye-watering levels for insurance premiums with massive excesses or going on holiday. The fact is that if they are on low incomes they either spend the money on living or on premiums for flood insurance if they can get it. I ask her to look at this again. We know that the new insurance scheme is coming in April, but that does not help the people who are hurting now. Can she give an assurance that she will look at the levels for people who were not insured during these floods and that extra financial support will be given to them where necessary?

Elizabeth Truss: I was struck by what my hon. Friend showed me in the village and how people had been affected. The river had diverted and was a torrent going down the street. We saw people’s homes and possessions decimated. It is truly shocking and we will do all we can to help those people get back on their feet and into their homes. We have provided funding to the local authority and they can apply for it. We have pre-funded it, so it is now a much simpler scheme. Rather than people having to get receipts, they can apply directly to the council for the funding.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am glad to hear the Secretary of State’s support for catchment-wide approaches and more natural flood management schemes based on the restoration of landscape and so on. She mentioned the Pickering scheme, but I would also highlight the Sussex flow initiative. Those schemes

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work but often struggle to get funding, so will she tell us how much money she will commit to natural flood management schemes over the lifetime of this Parliament, and will it be in addition to the £2.3 billion already committed?

Elizabeth Truss: DEFRA spends money on a variety of objectives, including on improving the environment, countryside stewardship by farmers and flood defences. My view is that we can get better value for money by improving the environment and our resilience to flooding. For me, this is about spending our money better and planning for the future better.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for coming to the Yorkshire area—she did not come to my constituency but she was next door. In Collingham, the Avenue was flooded when water came over the flood defences—I thank Leeds City Council for its work in trying to sort out those flood defences. In the south of my constituency, in Methley and Mickletown, the EA’s plan to hold water in the farmers’ fields worked, but the water was lapping at the doorsteps of many houses in Mickletown. May I urge her to be careful about schemes in Leeds that are designed to go only as far as Woodlesford, further upstream? That extra water would have taken out dozens of homes in my constituency that, as it was, survived the flooding. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), visit my constituency as soon as possible to see the devastating effect that schemes further upriver in Leeds could have in Mickletown and Methley?

Elizabeth Truss: My hon. Friend highlights the need for proper catchment-wide management. As well as meeting my hon. Friend the flooding envoy, I suggest that a meeting with the EA would also be helpful.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I pay tribute to all those who gave up their time, put their lives at risk and worked hard to save people, but I was frustrated at the sight of people being hauled into small inflatable dinghies simply because the professionals we rely on did not have the necessary kit. There are vehicles that can drive down flooded streets rescuing people not one or two at a time but 15 or 20 at a time. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and representatives of the professional heavy vehicle recovery industry, which has and can deploy that kit, to make it available?

Elizabeth Truss: It is important that we deploy the best kit, and a big effort was made on Christmas day to deploy that kit in Lancashire and Yorkshire to protect people. We rely on those in charge of operations, the local gold command, to decide how to deploy kit, but the floods Minister will be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss how we might do things better in the future.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State, the floods Minister and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Stockton South

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(James Wharton), for their magnificent support during the floods that decimated my constituency and their rapid response to requests for assistance, including for getting the Army in to help. What additional support can be given to the many businesses and homes trying to get back on their feet after the floods, particularly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) said, those struggling with insurance claims, and how much will be provided for Shipley to help build the flood defences back up? Also, will she join me in paying tribute to the magnificent army of volunteers, particularly the Bingley support flood group and the Shipley Baildon support group, based in the scout hut and the Salvation Army premises respectively, who gave up much of their Christmas to help other people, and also their employers who allowed them time off work to help in those communities?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his work in making sure that his local community had all the support it needed, and the fantastic volunteers who worked tirelessly throughout the Christmas period—a difficult time of year—and who gave up their time and their homes, and provided food and lodging for other people. I am happy to have further discussions with him about what needs to be done to make sure that the defences in his area are adequate.

Stuart Blair Donaldson (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (SNP): Many families, businesses and communities on Deeside in my constituency have been severely affected by flooding caused by Storm Frank. Homes have been evacuated and roads washed away. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland about an application to the EU solidarity fund to make more money available to assist flood victims in Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Elizabeth Truss: We have been working closely with Scottish authorities during this incident, and we will certainly look at the solidarity fund, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but we must bear it in mind that it would take seven months to receive any funding. We have put in place funding direct to the local authorities that residents and businesses can now claim—up to £5,000 to get a home or business back on its feet. I care about getting that support to those homes and businesses as soon as possible. That is the Government’s priority.

Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane) (Con): I would like to provide a bit of optimism for our poor flood victims up north. From my own checks over the recess and a report fed in by my mole—perhaps I should say “water vole”—on the Somerset levels today, I can report that the Government’s protection and prevention programme put in place following the devastating floods in Somerset in 2013-14 is working. The dredging is proving effective—we have had masses of rain yet the river levels fell by 2 feet last night—as is the pumping being done by the Environment Agency. May I have an assurance that the Government will continue to support this protection and prevention work, including the important catchment-wide environmental work, so that we do not regress again?

Elizabeth Truss: The Somerset Rivers Authority is now established and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has

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agreed a shadow precept. It is now for local people to decide where and when to dredge and how to maintain their watercourses. I want to see more of that across the country. We are developing the Cumbrian floods partnership so that local people can make decisions about what is best for their area.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): The A590 in Lindal in Furness came close to flooding again during the Christmas storms. Will the Secretary of State beseech the Transport Secretary, who is sat just to her left, urgently to improve the anti-flooding measures on that stretch of this crucial trunk road, which connects my constituency with the M6? If, as we understand it, a particular landowner is holding out, as a result of which a compulsory purchase might be necessary, will she beseech the Transport Secretary to step in and sort it out as soon as possible?

Elizabeth Truss: My right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is very happy to look at the matter.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Planning plays a crucial role in flood prevention. Will the Secretary of State join me in pleading with Kirklees Council, which is currently consulting on its local plan, to think seriously about the implications for flood prevention further down the valleys in the Holme Valley and the Colne Valley, before it rubberstamps allocating greenfield sites such as Scholes, Cinderhills, Netherton and Slaithwaite for housebuilding,?

Elizabeth Truss: The Environment Agency is a statutory consultee, and, as I mentioned earlier, the NPPF makes it clear that inappropriate development on flood plains should be avoided, but ultimately it is a matter for the local authority.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In October 2015, the Secretary of State turned down the £1.2 billion Humber tidal defence scheme. In the light of what has happened and the torrential rain, will she review that decision? Members from all areas of the Humber recognised that the area needed that scheme.

Elizabeth Truss: We are investing £80 million in defences for the Humber. I know there are further ongoing discussions with local MPs. We have to ensure that through our £2.3 billion budget we are fair to people across the country. There is a formula for making determinations, and one thing we shall look at in the national resilience review is how that formula works and how funding is allocated. Until then, we have to make sure that we are fair using the existing formula.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) (Con): I express my thanks to the Government and Ministers for their collective response to the floods. It was prompt, and I firmly believe it has been constructive and helpful to the people of Carlisle and Cumbria. However, will the Secretary of State give my constituents an assurance that not next week, not next month, but in six or 12 months’ time, she will ensure that the Government are still offering support and help that flooded communities and businesses might still need?

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Elizabeth Truss: Of course it is vital that we help not just the present recovery efforts to get people back into their homes and provide support, but we must also restore the infrastructure and great places such as the Lake District national park while providing the economic support required for the future.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The largest river system in the UK is in my constituency, and the biggest flow of water experienced by any community goes through the heart of the city of Perth. Today, large swathes of my constituency are under water, and there was a real fear last night that the flood defences in Perth might fail, which would have been utterly disastrous for my constituents, given the flow of water that comes down the Tay. Even if we had the most robust flood defences in the world it would do nothing if we do not tackle climate change. I know that flood defences are a devolved matter, but the Secretary of State could do something for us today if she stopped the disastrous decision to withdraw subsidy and support for onshore wind. That would enable us to invest in the technologies of the future, which might protect us in the future.

Elizabeth Truss: The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change helped to secure an historic deal in Paris in December precisely to address that issue.

Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend considered asking the Army, and particularly the Royal Engineers, to intervene, given that their skills—the sappers’ skills—with bridging rivers is legendary, and they could easily and quickly replace the lost bridges?

Elizabeth Truss: The Royal Engineers are involved, and they have been involved in both Cumbria and Yorkshire, looking at finding possible solutions for those bridges.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): In her statement, the Secretary of State referred to the national flood resilience review that she has commissioned to ensure that the country can deal with increasingly extreme weather events. However, she did not respond to a request from the shadow Secretary of State to ensure that such a review should be independent. I ask her to respond to that request now because we need to underpin the integrity of this very important review by making sure that it is indeed independent and robust in its recommendations.

Elizabeth Truss: What we are doing through this review is involving key bodies such as the Adaptation Sub-Committee and the Natural Capital Committee and ensuring that all the findings are open and transparent. One of the key aspects of the review is looking at how Government systems work effectively, and we need to share such information more widely with the public. That does not require an independent review; it requires openness and transparency, to which I am committed.

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con): My constituency contains the wonderful and lovely River Wye and River Teme. They flow from the uplands of

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my Brecon and Radnorshire constituency across Offa’s dyke into Shropshire and Herefordshire, from which they usually flood. Thank goodness, they did not do so on this occasion. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with the devolved Administrations about upland management and capture management?

Elizabeth Truss: The Welsh authorities have been very much involved in our flood response, as Wales has been affected. I will of course seek to engage my hon. Friend in that wider issue.

Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab): The Government are providing funding for businesses that have suffered from the recent flooding. While I welcome that, local traders in Cockermouth have told me that it cannot be used toward resilience measures, which can come only out of capital expenditure. What businesses need now is help with those resilience measures to make sure that the next flood—there will be one—will be survivable. Many insurance companies will not fund the extra costs of resilience measures. At a time when affected small businesses in my constituency are haemorrhaging cash, what support can the Secretary of State offer in this respect? Following her earlier offer to Lancashire MPs, will she meet cross-party Cumbrian MPs to discuss these matters as well?

Elizabeth Truss: The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, my right hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), visited Cockermouth. My understanding is that businesses can apply through the local enterprise partnership to get investment in those resilience measures, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be happy to take that forward.

Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire) (Con): About 20% of South Derbyshire is in flood plains, so my constituents are aware and well attuned to when a crisis might hit us. Will my right hon. Friend conduct a review of how the Environment Agency has put out information and how it has been updated because some of my constituents do not feel that it has been timely enough?

Elizabeth Truss: I shall take up that point with the Environment Agency, whose website has had a lot of hits. Up-to-date information has been out there on river levels, but we are always looking at ways to improve that. The Environment Agency has a new chief executive, Sir James Bevan, who is keen to hear from MPs with suggestions for improvement. I will certainly feed through to him my hon. Friend’s point.

Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to volunteers and all those people in the emergency services who helped out not just in northern England, but in Scotland and Wales as well. I also want to draw attention to the A55, a dual carriageway in north Wales, which is of great UK and European importance because it links the economies of Ireland and Wales to the UK and wider European markets. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she will put pressure on the Labour First Minister in Wales to guarantee sufficient funding and a starting date for essential works to ensure that the A55 route is kept flood free at Talybont from now on?

Elizabeth Truss: I think that that is a matter for the Welsh Government.

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Victoria Atkins (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): My constituents in Louth and Horncastle know only too well the devastation caused by flooding and will want me to express our sympathy for all those affected by flooding over Christmas. The beach replenishment scheme called Lincshore helps to protect the Lincolnshire coastline from the threat of tidal surges from the North sea, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) mentioned. Since 2010, the Government have invested millions in flood defences across my constituency, but these must, of course, be maintained. Will the Secretary of State meet me, other Lincolnshire colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), and council leaders as a matter of urgency to discuss the Lincshore scheme so that we can continue to protect Lincolnshire residents in the years ahead?

Elizabeth Truss: We have protected flood maintenance spending in real terms from the current level of £171 million. I am a great supporter of internal drainage boards and making sure that they are sufficiently empowered to do work. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who has responsibility for floods, will be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this issue further.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Following on from the question asked by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, will the Secretary of State commit to ensuring that the Government make the reopening before Easter of the A591 a national priority? On the £500 million or £600 million that the county of Cumbria needs to repair the damage caused by flooding, will the right hon. Lady ensure that it is linked to the outstanding devolution settlement of Cumbrian local government?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. As I have said, the A591 is a national priority. For the first time ever we have Highways England working on it to ensure that that happens as soon as possible.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): Although I am absolutely certain that most members of the Environment Agency did work very hard over the Christmas period, does the Secretary of State agree that institutionally the agency is often found lacking when it comes to flood prevention? It seems to lack dynamism, a cohesive approach and the determination to follow through with schemes, which the agency itself often identifies and which local people identify. In Tewkesbury we are well aware of the problems associated with flooding. I have to say that in my area there is a frustration about the operation of the Environment Agency.

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As I said, I was in Yorkshire on Boxing day. What I saw on the ground was some fantastic staff from the Environment Agency working around the clock to protect lives and save people. That is vital. Of course, any organisation needs to learn and get better at doing things. We have a new chief executive, Sir James Bevan, who was with me in Yorkshire on Boxing day. He is clear that he wants to put people in homes and that that is the agency’s No.1 priority. He is going to ensure that any issues raised by MPs are taken seriously and addressed.