David Cameron vowed “lessons will be learnt” from the devastating winter floods, after Jeremy Corbyn pressed him on funding vital defences against the waters.
During Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, the Labour leader asked why in 2011 the Governemnt scrapped a flood defence project in Leeds – one of the cities hit by floods over the Christmas period.
Mr Corbyn also asked about the funding flood relief schemes in Cumbria – another area which fell victim to the heavy rainfall this winter
Mr Cameron said spending on flood defences had increased under his premiership, and mocked the Labour leader for the three-day reshuffle of his Shadow Cabinet.
Speaking across the Despatch Box in the Commons, Mr Corbyn said: “In 2011 a £190million flood defence project in the River Aire in Leeds was cancelled on cost grounds by the government.
“A thousand homes and business in Leeds were flooded in recent weeks, the Government is still only committed to a scaled down version of the project worth a fraction of the total cost when the Prime Minister claimed that money was no object when it came to flood relief.”
He added: “Will he guarantee the full scheme will go ahead to protect Leeds from future flooding?”
Mr Cameron replied that “it was the wettest December for over 100 years and actually in Leeds and in Yorkshire it was the wettest December ever on record and that’s why rivers in Yorkshire, including the Aire in Leeds was a metre higher than it’s ever been in its history.”
He added: “No flood defence schemes have been cancelled since 2010, the investment in flood defences which was £1.5billion under the last Labour government was £1.7billion in the Government I led as a coalition and will be over £2billion in this Parliament. It’s gone up and up and up.”
The 12 mile flood defence scheme along the River Aire was scrapped in 2011, but speaking after PMQs today a No.10 spokesman tried to imply it wasn’t on cost grounds.
When asked if money wasn't an issue in the Leeds flood defence decision, and said: "The decisions you make are on what would be the most effective way to spend the resources you have got.
"Jeremy Corbyn's suggestion was that the scheme had been cancelled. There was a proposal made, it wasn't adopted. You've got to go ahead with the scheme that will in our view work best.
The most recent flooding began at the beginning of December, when Storm Desmond caused severe disruption in Cumbria, Scotland and Wales.
Further rain over Christmas and Boxing Day saw flooding in York and Leeds.
Mr Cameron said the response from the Government showed lessons had been learnt from previous episodes of flooding in the UK, saying: “This time the military came in far faster than ever before.”
He added: “More money was got to communities more quickly so a lot of lessons have been learnt. Are there more to learn, I’m sure there are, there always are and that is why we will review everything that’s been done.”
Mr Corbyn chastised Conservative MPs who heckled him as he recounted a conversation with two flood victims in York, Chris and Victoria.
“It wasn’t very funny for them,” he said.
Heartless laughter from Tory benches at the plight of Chris & Victoria, whose home in York was flooded. Shameful #PMQs— Liz McInnes (@LizMcInnesMP) January 6, 2016
The Prime Minster hit back at Mr Corbyn’s criticism of his Government’s flood defence spending, challenging him to explain where he would find the money from given he had committed to renationalising the UK railways.
He added: “The idea that this individual would be faster responding to floods when it takes him three days to carry out a reshuffle is frankly laughable.”
Later on in the session, Mr Cameron launched a blistering attack on the Labour Party new Shadow Cabinet line up – initially focusing on the loss of Maria Eagle as Shadow Defence Secretary.
He said: “[She] believed in strong defence, who believed in our nuclear deterrent.”
Mr Cameron went on: “One day this reshuffle will be over and we will be left with a collection of politicians, be in no doubt about this, who have signed up to unilateral nuclear disarmament, to racking taxes, debt and spending and one of the left wing programmes in living memory. This is a collective act they will have taken part in. We shouldn’t be asking ‘Is the Leader of the Opposition happy to have the member for Leeds Central [Hilary Benn]?’ - we know he’s not. The question is what is the Member for Leeds Central and others doing in this Labour Party government.”
Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle shouted back: “We’re not in Government, you are.”