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Cameron shrugs off floods response attack by taunting Jeremy Corbyn on reshuffle

Published 06/01/2016

David Cameron defended his record on flood defences
David Cameron defended his record on flood defences

The idea that Jeremy Corbyn would have responded to the Christmas floods faster than the Government when it takes the Labour leader three days to reshuffle his shadow cabinet is laughable, David Cameron has said.

The Prime Minister defended his record on flood defences as Mr Corbyn attacked the Government for cancelling a scheme in Leeds and turning down applications to improve protection in York and Cumbria, which have been deluged in recent weeks.

Mr Cameron said the Tories had increased spending on flood defences to £2 billion as he taunted the Opposition leader over his drawn-out reshuffle which has prompted two shadow ministers to resign this morning, with more expected to follow.

Replying to Mr Corbyn's attacks during Prime Minister's Questions, 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.

"But let me make this point to you.

"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 reshuffle is frankly laughable.

"Since I walked into the chamber this morning your shadow foreign minister resigned, your shadow defence minister resigned, you couldn't run anything."

Mr Corbyn hit back: "It's very strange that when I've asked a question about Leeds flood defence, then on Cumbria flood defence, the Prime Minister still seems unable to answer.

"Can you now tell us if there is going to be funding for those schemes?"

The Labour leader had highlighted the coalition's cancellation in 2011 of a £190 million protection project on the River Aire in Leeds, where 1,000 homes have been flooded in recent weeks.

He said the Government was still only committed to a scaled-down project in the city before claiming the Government turned down in 2014 funding for new schemes in Keswick and Kendal in Cumbria, both of which were flooded in recent weeks.

Describing the decisions as a "mistake", Mr Corbyn then told the PM about a couple in York whose home was flooded, causing some Tory MPs to laugh.

The Labour leader intervened: "It wasn't very funny for them.

"This young couple lost many of their possessions - photos, children's toys, school work, and they've got the foul stench of flood water in their homes as many families have all over this country.

"They are asking all of us wholly legitimate questions - why was it that the insufficient pump capacity in the Foss barrier - again, alerted to in 2013 by a Government report - was not dealt with and those pumps were not upgraded, thus people were flooded in York and their possessions and homes severely damaged?

"Those people want answers from all of us, and in particular from you."

Mr Cameron chided the Labour leader for holidaying in Malta over the Christmas period while stressing that the Government is investing in York's Foss barrier and has introduced a nationwide flood insurance scheme.

The PM replied: "I have the greatest sympathy with anyone who has been flooded and we have to do what it takes to get to people and get communities back on their feet.

"That is why we have put record sums in more quickly to help communities in Cumbria, in Lancashire and now in Yorkshire, and we'll continue to do that.

" Specifically on the question of the Foss pumps - that was about to be tendered for extra investment and that investment will now go ahead because the money is there.

"So what I would say to you - we're putting in the money, we're putting it in more quickly, the military got involved more quickly, and to that couple who got flooded we are also doing something that previous governments spoke about but never achieved, which is to have an insurance scheme so that every single household in our country can get insured - Flood Re.

"So have lessons been learnt? Yes they have. Are there more lessons to learn? There always are.

"But frankly, we don't need a lecture from Malta from you."

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

The fire and rescue service's duty to deal with floods should also been put into law, he said.

"The reality is that flood defence scheme after flood defence scheme has been cancelled, postponed or cut," said Mr Corbyn.

"Many more homes have been flooded and too many lessons have been ignored."

Replying, Mr Cameron continued to taunt the Labour leader over his reshuffle.

The PM said: "The best I can say is, when you've worked out how to co-ordinate your own party then perhaps you can come and have a word with me.

"On the issue of a statutory duty, everybody knows what they have to do when floods take place.

"That's why there was such a magnificent response from the emergency services, from the fire services, from the emergency rescue services.

"They have our backing to do the vital work and yes we'll go on investing in flood defences, we'll increase the money we're spending on flood defences because we've got a strong economy and a strong country that can back the action that's needed."

Senior Government sources denied that the scheme to defend Leeds from floods had been cancelled, as Mr Corbyn suggested, saying that it had never been approved. A source said the scheme referred to by the Labour leader was one of a number put forward and it was turned down in favour of another proposal, which is currently being implemented.

Asked whether the scheme was rejected for being too expensive, the Downing Street source said: "The decisions you make are on what is the most effective way to use the resources you have got."

A senior Labour spokesman said: "Jeremy Corbyn addressed an issue that affects millions of people - floods - and didn't get any serious answers, just a lot of insults and bad jokes.

"I think millions of people will have seen Prime Minister's Questions today as the Labour Party caring about what's happening with the floods and the Government avoiding that."

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