Minister appeals for early pay-outs to flood victims

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The government yesterday launched a direct appeal to insurers to help families who have fallen victim to the severe flooding "more quickly and effectively".

The government yesterday launched a direct appeal to insurers to help families who have fallen victim to the severe flooding "more quickly and effectively".

Elliot Morley, the minister responsible for flood precautions, disclosed that the Government would also discuss with insurers how homes and businesses at risk of flooding would be insured in future.

In an emergency Commons statement, he said: "The Government is committed to discuss with the Association of British Insurers how the insurance industry can respond more quickly and effectively to emergencies such as this, and also deal with problems of insurability and businesses at the risk of flooding."

Mr Morley also insisted that "it would not have been practicable" to have stopped the floods because it would have required massive walls to be built.

As revealed in The Independent, the Government was warned five months ago that it needed to increase by at least 50 per cent the amount spent annually on flood defence.

"I have to emphasise that we cannot stop all flooding, just reduce its risk," he said. "The recent floods have overwhelmed some defences. It would not have been practicable to have stopped them - it would have required massive walls which, even if they could have been constructed, and afforded, would be unlikely to be acceptable visually or environmentally. Shrewsbury turned down a flood defence scheme a few years ago on these very grounds."

Mr Morley added that the Environment Agency will produce a full report on lessons to be learned from the widespread flooding across England. He said the Government's impression was that the flood warning system had been effective, adding that of some 1.8 million properties at risk of flooding this time, fewer than 4,000 had been flooded.

"I believe that most flood defences for urban areas have operated to their design standards or better," he said.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, had already promised an extra £51m over four years and total spending in the current financial year approached £400m, Mr Morley said.

Tory spokesman James Paice challenged him on when the Government would be publishing definitive guidance on limiting housing development on flood plains. He called on ministers to reconsider planning permission for substantial developments on flood plains in Hertfordshire and the Nene Valley.

Two years ago, a committee of MPs had pointed to "significant confusion" between the bodies responsible for flood prevention and control, the Environment Agency and the Flood Defence Committees. "What action will you take to create a much clearer line of responsibility for these problems?" Mr Paice said.

Jack Cunningham, the Labour MP for Copeland and former Agriculture Minister, urged Mr Morley to ensure that the changes announced applied equally to all areas and all families who had suffered flooding, regardless of the extent.

Don Foster, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "Additional money for flood defences is vital. But it is equally vital to sort out the bureaucratic quagmire of responsibility for flood defence work."