Today I asked Nick Clegg about the Government’s response to the flooding in the UK and asked him to assure the House that the Government will bring together the insurance companies and co-ordinate all the Government compensation processes.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): The whole House will be concerned about the impact of the severe floods on those living and working in the Somerset levels and in the Thames valley. It is hard to imagine the distress at seeing one’s home wrecked by flood water, but that is the situation facing so many families today. The armed forces, fire and rescue services, the police, local council workers and Environment Agency staff are all doing a heroic job in the stricken areas, often in difficult and dangerous conditions, and they deserve our respect and our thanks for that. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the response to the floods?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that we should all join together to pay tribute to everybody who is working so hard around the clock. I was in the Somerset levels on Sunday night and yesterday morning, and, in addition to the emergency services, all the people in the gold command, the local authorities and the volunteers, who have gone several days without sleeping properly, are helping their families, neighbours and friends. It really is an extremely impressive collective effort. The bad weather is still with us. The Met Office is keeping us updated, as she knows. We are holding a series of Cobra meetings on an ongoing basis to monitor the situation. We are working with local authorities, the Environment Agency and all the emergency services to put contingency measures in place where we think threats might arise and, of course, to do our best to deal with the rising water in all the places it has affected, particularly the Thames valley and the Somerset levels.
Ms Harman: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his response. The absolute priority for everyone now must be a total focus on working together to help people hit by the floods and those who are still threatened. People will still face huge challenges and great anxiety about the future even after the floodwater recedes. They will have to get their homes straight, their farms and businesses back on track and rebuild their livelihoods and communities. We all know how impossible it can be, even at the best of times, wrestling with compensation schemes and dealing with insurance companies. Will he assure the House that the Government are working on that now? Will they bring together the insurance companies and co-ordinate all the Government compensation processes so that once the water subsides and the TV cameras move on, people are not left in the lurch and get the ongoing help they need?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Lady—I am sure that everyone does from all parts of the House—that that is precisely what we should be doing. She may know that we have already reached an agreement with the insurance industry on a long-term approach to insuring properties that are susceptible to flooding, and we can now move forward on that. She will know that we have increased the coverage under the Bellwin formula in terms of the money provided to councils that have had to spend more of their own resources to deal with this terrible emergency. Yes, of course we will need to work with the insurance industry, businesses, the farming community and local authorities to ensure that proper coverage and compensation is provided.