UK Politics

PMQs: Corbyn clashes with Cameron over flood defences

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCameron and Corbyn clash over flooding

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has clashed with the prime minister over funding for flood defence schemes.

Mr Corbyn attacked Mr Cameron's government for cancelling a scheme in Leeds and turning down applications to improve protection in York and Cumbria.

But Mr Cameron said flood relief had improved and spending on protection had increased to £2bn in England.

He said it was "laughable" to suggest Mr Corbyn would have responded to the Christmas floods more quickly.

December was the wettest month on record in the UK, with about 16,000 homes in England flooded, and Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire among the worst affected.

Parts of Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland also saw flooding and damage from a series of storms, including Desmond, Eva and Frank.

More heavy rain is expected overnight and on Thursday and could cause further flooding, the Environment Agency for England and Wales is warning.

It comes as MPs on the Commons Environment Committee were told by Environment Agency bosses that flood defences saved lives and did not fail during December's storms.

Mr Corbyn questioned whether the government had learnt from flooding in January 2014.

Mr Cameron said "a number of lessons have been learnt", adding: "This time the military came in far faster than ever before, the Bellwin Scheme [financial assistance scheme] was funded at 100% not 85%, more money got to communities more quickly."

He said there was "always" more to learn, adding: "That is why we will review everything that's been done. But let's be clear as we do that that we will make money available."

'Scaled down'

Mr Corbyn attacked the government for cancelling funding for flood protection schemes.

"One thousand homes and businesses in Leeds were flooded in recent weeks [and] the government is still only committed to a scaled-down version of the project worth a fraction of its total cost - when the prime minister claimed that money was no object when it came to flood relief," said the Labour leader.

He pressed the prime minister to guarantee full funding for a £190m project on the River Aire in Leeds that was cancelled in 2011.

And he called for a cross-party approach which would back "properly funded" flood protection schemes and upland management to make homes more resilient.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Parts of Leeds, like the Stourton industrial area, were flooded after rivers burst their banks in December
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption York was flooded in December after rivers burst their banks

Mr Cameron said: "We are spending more on flood defence schemes and are stacking up a whole series of schemes that we'll spend more on...

"If you are going to spend billions of pounds on renationalising our railways, where are you going to find the money for flood defences?

"The idea that this individual would be faster in responding to floods when it takes him three days to carry out a [shadow cabinet] reshuffle is frankly laughable."

The Labour leader later wrote to David Cameron to seek further assurances on funding for key schemes.

In the letter, Mr Corbyn claimed Mr Cameron's remarks during Prime Minister's Questions had been "simply disingenuous" and to assert more was being spent than five years ago was a "misrepresentation" of the facts.

"As we face billions of pounds worth of flood damage, we can now tangibly see the effects of the false economy that is your government's austerity," Mr Corbyn wrote.

Over the current parliament, £2.3bn will be spent on flood defences in England.

Last year £802m was spent on flood defences, according to Defra, but the amount spent in 2015-16 is expected to decrease to £695m.

In Cumbria, £45m was spent by the government on flood defences during the last parliament, Environment secretary Liz Truss has said. A new £4.4m flood defence scheme was constructed in Cumbria in 2013, which included the UK's first "self-closing" flood barriers.

More on this story