Tackling Climate Change

Return to Homepage  

Commons Hansard
12 Oct 2005

Tackling Climate Change

5.38 p.m.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I shall bear your comments in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Given the consensus in the Chamber and the view that we need a new political approach, perhaps the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) will withdraw his motion so that we will not need a vote. That would put the Government on the back foot and would certainly be new politics.

It is well known that I do not make great visionary speeches in the Chamber and talking about the problems of 2050 is something that tends to be lost on my constituents. I wish to speak about my experience of what I believe to be climate change. Those hon. Members who can remember past the general election know that Carlisle experienced horrendous flooding on 8 January. About 3,000 houses were flooded and two elderly constituents died a dreadful death by drowning in their homes. Some £500 million of damage was caused. Jobs were lost. It was a staggering blow.

The Government responded well. My hon. Friend the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, who is responsible for dealing with floods, came to the constituency before it had stopped raining and £30 million was made available for flood defences. Six Ministers, four of them Secretaries of State, visited us. We dealt with the flood well. We also received an extra £30 million for our schools.

We thought that it was a flood that took place once every 150 years. It had happened and we could put it behind us. The Deputy Prime Minister came to the city and said that it should have a renaissance. We were to have a new fire station, new police station, new commercial centre and new civic centre, because they were all flooded. We were looking forward to that, but yesterday the rain started again. The storm clouds came over Carlisle, settled over Cumbria and we had 4 in of rain.

Those facts do not bear any resemblance to what really happens to people when they are flooded. I arrived home from London and someone said, "Do you want a boat trip round your house?" After the flooding went away, we went into the houses, took our personal possessions, which we had had for many years, and threw them into a big skip. But that was just the start. The builders then came in. They tore the house to pieces, ripped up floorboards and took down the walls. Massive heaters were put in the house to dry it out before it could be reconstructed. It was horrendous. Some 66 per cent. of the people flooded in my constituency in January are still not back in their homes. That is the reality of a massive flood - and of global warming.

It is global warming because the same thing has happened again. Fortunately, when I came to the Chamber, the rain had stopped, but last night my constituents lived in fear. I am not exaggerating - I am not prone to exaggeration - but they would not have slept. I was in London and I did not sleep. The curtains would have been open and they would have gone to the window every half hour to check whether it was still raining. The local bus company moved its £3 million-worth of new buses out of the area. I talked to senior managers at United Utilities today who said that the climate has changed and Carlisle is no worse than many other areas. My tale could well be repeated in other constituencies if we do not do something about the problem.

As I said, I am not a great visionary, but a practical politician. Some things we can do quickly. Although tackling emissions will take great debate by statesmen and wise counsel, we have to be ready for more floods. There is a commitment to provide flood defences, but they will not be up for a while. However, yesterday's problem was not with the rivers. The Environment Agency is in charge of those and they did not flood. The problem lay with the run-off of surface water, the drains and the sewers.

The practical difficulty is that the county council and the city council have different responsibilities for the different gullies. They argue about who should clean what and not enough are cleaned. The city council is responsible for the drains and United Utilities, the privatised utility supplier - privatisation does not help in this situation - is responsible for the sewers.

We therefore lack the necessary co-ordination to deal with the practical difficulties. If we do not get that right - I know that the Secretary of State is listening - we will fail to deal with future floods. Anyone representing a constituency with a flood risk should look at the reports about what happened in Carlisle, because they provide a blueprint for the way in which the Government should react as well as a warning about what can happen.

I sometimes think that our priorities are wrong. Many environmentalists in the Chamber have been in the vanguard, and have pushed for action on climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson) raised the issue of sewerage and flash floods, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson). United Utilities said that we must spend £3.5 billion in the next five years to improve environmental water quality in the north-west, but we have only £100 million to spend on improvements to the sewerage system. I live in the centre of Carlisle and when I look out of my windows I can see otters and kingfishers, which is tremendous. It may be necessary, however to reduce the £3.5 billion that we spend on water quality and put more money into improving the sewerage system. We need to reconstruct the drainage and the sewerage systems in most of our cities, as they were built at a time when people did not experience flash floods or intense rainfall. Another option is to increase costs to pay for those improvements, because United Utilities and the other privatised utilities will always seek a profit.

I hope that people will treat my warning seriously. We can introduce practical measures quickly, but we must resolve the underlying problems. Wind power has been mentioned. In my constituency, a local company, Pirelli, has received planning permission for a large wind turbine that will cut its costs by about £750,000 a year. I think that that was the right decision. Having had nuclear power in Cumbria for many years, I believe that we should keep an open mind about it. Environmentalists who say that we should have nothing to do with it are probably wrong, and might think differently if they shared my experiences. The Liberal Democrats cannot claim to build a consensus while ruling out nuclear power. That is simply not feasible.

I hope that I have warned the House about the practical problems of climate change. The right hon. Member for West Dorset would give a true sign of consensus if he withdrew the motion.

5.48 p.m.

Commons Contents  Return to Homepage

Return to Homepage

On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB