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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for those comments. We are focused on river flooding at the moment, but it is appropriate also to consider coastal defences in the long term. The noble Lord was right to point out that, in looking to the long term, we need to base our approach on good science and on best understanding of the possibilities for the future. I believe that we all recognise the need for urgent work to address the likely--although no one can say whether they are inevitable or certain--effects over the next years and decades. We are still not certain whether we are seeing abnormal weather patterns which are part of a cyclical exercise or direct effects of climate change. We need to understand that better in order to act appropriately.
Lord Jopling: My Lords, first, does the Minister agree that while protection of human lives is the first priority, the Government should review the inadequacy of drainage on our trunk roads and motorways? Is the noble Baroness aware that for over 24 hours a 20-mile stretch of the A1 south of Scotch Corner was closed over the weekend? That caused traffic chaos which must have been hugely expensive to industry, to the transport industry, which has problems of its own, and to many private individuals in cars. There was total chaos because of flooding. It should be a priority to ensure that the drainage arrangements on motorways and trunk roads are adequate to deal with such floods.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord's latter point demonstrates how important it is to have local democratic input into establishing priorities, which inevitably will have to be set. Difficult decisions will have to be made in particular with regard to coastal areas. It is important that we debate priority setting. It is easier to have such a debate when there are extra resources available; and that is what we shall have.
I take the noble Lord's point about the importance of drainage on trunk roads. We are all conscious of the difficulties which are compounded with regard to transport. I undertake to ensure that the Highways Agency will be one of the organisations involved in the exercise that will take place when we have caught breath in terms of learning some lessons.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, first, will the Minister indicate whether the ABI has fallen down on its duties towards insured people? When did the noble Baroness or her fellow Ministers discuss the matter with the ABI? What has been its response? Secondly, what happens to tenants or sub-tenants who are not insured? They would not be covered by the ABI. Have the Government any plans in respect of those people?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, there are those who are desperately badly affected in a range of ways in these circumstances. Flooding has been an insurable risk in the past. Concern has been expressed that people who have suffered in the current rounds of flooding will not have access to insurance in the future. That is one of the issues which will soon be the subject of discussions between Treasury Ministers and the insurance industry. We are also discussing with the ABI how the insurance industry can respond quickly and effectively to emergencies such as this. We have said that we will operate within 15 days as regards the Bellwin rules. It is important that those who have insurance cover have quick access to the funding which will come through that.
Baroness Fookes: My Lords, will the Minister address the key issue of not allowing planning permission to be given for land subject to flooding. Will not local authorities find themselves in the middle of a clash? On the one hand, they will be given this stronger guidance. On the other hand, the Government have committed themselves to major building of houses in particular in the South East. If local authorities have the courage to refuse permission, can they expect support if there is an appeal?
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, my diocese is in Yorkshire although I am glad to say that Wakefield is not flooded as York so sadly is. Nevertheless, families in my diocese have relatives who are suffering flooding in their homes. One family was enormously distressed, having read in newspapers that the value of its property would probably now be decreased by something like 25 per cent. I realise that the Minister may not be able to respond immediately. However, can she assure us of the Government's sensitivity to the difficult financial position of people who may have bought houses in areas where there has been some worry about the wisdom of planning permission?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate, I sympathise with people who find themselves in difficult circumstances as regards financial responsibility. We have to consider carefully the implications.
One of the lessons learned after the Northampton floods is the importance of getting agencies such as the Department of Social Security involved on the ground, with Benefits Agency staff present from the beginning so that essential Social Fund applications can be met quickly and advice offered to those in distress.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us find reassuring the practical measures outlined in the Statement in the truly dreadful circumstances which people are suffering? The noble Baroness referred to work being undertaken to assess whether the flooding is an unusual climatic condition or part of a longer trend. But many will feel reassured only when they hear the Government put climate change, global warming and the strategic environmental considerations which arise in that context at the centre of all their strategic policy formulation. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that the present circumstances--alas!--may be an indication of even worse things to come in the decades ahead.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that we should not assume that recent events are simply a reflection of cyclical weather patterns. We have to build into our defence plans allowances for issues such as sea level rises as a result of climate change. He is also right to say that we need
Lord Howie of Troon: My Lords, I declare an interest as a civil engineer. Reference has been made to a debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, a few months ago. Does my noble friend the Minister recall that one of our colleagues who is notable in the environmental world expressed the views of many environmental quangos--and possibly those of the Government--pouring what might be called cold water on the idea of hard flood defences and suggesting instead that the right policy was to allow nature to take its course? We have seen nature taking its course and it does not seem quite such a good idea. The Minister may not be able to give an assurance, but will she at least turn her mind towards a policy of extensive hard flood defences throughout the country?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is not possible to give an overall blanket response to that contribution. We have to look at the areas concerned. There is a difference between coastal and river defences. The appropriate solutions will not be the same for all coastal regions or for all flood plains. We have to look strategically at the defence of a whole area, rather than concentrating on small localised schemes. We have guiding principles about what is appropriate, but there is no alternative to careful scrutiny of individual areas, their needs and the appropriate responses to them.
We have already discussed the puzzle of why the Government want the Bill and who else wants it. The Minister said that nobody had asked for it and the Government had thought of it by themselves. When we asked why, he said that it simply corrected an anomaly to bring the situation into line with an unused provision. I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, got it right when he said that he found it difficult to understand the Bill and that he felt that we
It became clear during the debate on Amendment No. 1, if it was not clear before, that Sinn Fein is the only serious group that wants the Bill, apart from the Government. Are the Government getting anything in exchange? Everyone who is looking for a solution to the Northern Ireland problem wants things from Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA. In particular, we all want them to renounce violence and the threat of violence as the means to a political objective. Decommissioning is the test of that.
The Good Friday agreement set out a two-year timetable for decommissioning. Well over two years later, nothing effective has happened, apart from two inspections of PIRA arms dumps. The loyalist terrorists have done nothing effective. If the Government want to achieve something through the Bill, it should be decommissioning. Now is the moment to do that and the aim of the amendments is to provide a vehicle for it.
The Government should not agree to anything else--certainly not anything as far-reaching as this Bill--without getting something in return. I was one of many who told the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that she would be unwise to allow the two-year timetables for prisoner releases and decommissioning to be separated. Allowing that separation in the agreement and subsequently has been the Government's key error on Northern Ireland. However, the prisoners are out and decommissioning has not effectively started, so the message to the Government now is that they should not make the same mistake again.
The Prime Minister sometimes proceeds as if it was necessary only to be nice to terrorists and they will be nice to us. If we let their prisoners out first they will soon give up their arms, and for that matter their aims. In fact, the terrorists have seen that and other developments as a sign of weakness and have kept asking for more and more, including the Bill, which was never in the agreement.
Sinn Fein wants the Bill, but nobody else in Northern Ireland does, as far as we can tell--apart from the Government. The message of the amendment is that if the Government must pass the Bill, they should at least get something for it, and preferably decommissioning, because that would be a symbol that the terrorists had begun to look to democracy and not to the bomb and bullet, which have destroyed the lives of so many people in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.
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