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Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): Cumbria has been through a horrendous nine months and I am afraid that the Government's reaction today is yet another example of too little, too late. May I press the Secretary of State specifically on Lord Haskins' recommendation that the extension of the amnesty for business rate and VAT payments should run to April next year? Will she have urgent discussions with the Treasury on that recommendation? If those bills are presented in the next few months, a large number of businesses will go bankrupt.
Will the right hon. Lady comment on the extraordinary statement in Lord Haskins' report that Government support should be provided only to those businesses that deserve to survive? Will she clarify exactly which businesses, in the Government's view, deserve to survive? I can tell her that in my constituency and throughout the county of Cumbria a large number of businesses that deserved to survive are already bust.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): We have just heard that the total contribution of agriculture to our GDP is worth £5 billion. Is the Secretary of State aware that The Economist calculates that cannabis dealing in the United Kingdom is worth more than £1 billion? Has Lord Haskins considered the enormous contribution that could be made by legalising cannabis and producing the crop in the United Kingdom, which would be perfectly possible
Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): I welcome any circumstance that requires Ministers to make a statement about publications that have been issued outside. It is unfortunate, however, that it was not possible to have a full statement.
What does Lord Haskins' report, as it applies to Cumbria, imply for the rest of England and Wales in terms of compensation requirements, and what recommendations will flow from that? Given that the rural taskforce has also reported today to the Prime MinisterI understand that the report has just been publishedcan the Secretary of State say anything about that report, which I understand calls for more extensive support for businesses across the rural community? May we have a debate in the House about both reports, rather than a hurried statement tacked on to the end of Question Time?
Margaret Beckett: With respect, the Government have tried, without unduly disrupting business, to ensure that the announcement of our reaction to the report has been made in the House. The breakdown and the justification for it are issues that we can consider at greater length. As for the hon. Gentleman's request for a debate on the matter, it has been heard by the Leader of the House. Indeed, the rural taskforce report looks more widely and more at the medium and longer term. Nothing that I have said today precludes consideration of what might be the right steps to take in the medium and longer term. The House and the Government will return to those issues over time.
Tony Cunningham (Workington): I welcome the report and the money that is being provided. Will the Secretary of State ensure that local people are brought into discussions on the implementation of the report? We want to make sure that the new money is spent as efficiently as possible because the people of Cumbria have truly suffered over the past nine months.
Margaret Beckett: I entirely take my hon. Friend's point. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs advises me that one of the key recommendations in the rural taskforce report as he sees it concerns teamwork, and clearly that involves local people. It is right to give
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): Does the right hon. Lady accept that Lord Haskins is not the most popular man with farmers? He is not a particularly successful farmer and his company certainly is not friendly to the farming industry. Does it come well from a man such as Lord Haskins to hector livestock farmers who work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 12 months a year? Does she further accept that the subsidies mentioned by Members during Question Time today go to the consumer, not the farmer? Unless farmers are there, the great land that we represent and which people take for granted will not be maintained. Farmers must produce from their land to maintain it for the benefit of the country.
Margaret Beckett: The hon. Gentleman will have been in the Chamber and heard the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) indicating that we all recognise not only the direct contribution that agriculture and farming make to the economy, but their contribution to the rural landscape, which is a key issue for tourism.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): The present animal markets are wasteful, inefficient, cruel to animals and accelerate the spread of animal diseases. During this crisis some farmers have sold their animals via video links, and Lord Haskins rightly says that the best way of conducting such sales is via the internet, which not only avoids suffering for animals, as they do not have to travel so far, but is far cheaper. Most of all, however, such a system would avoid the spread of disease, as animals do not come into contact with each other. Is not that recommendation, like the rest of the report, far-sighted? Lord Haskins rightly says that aquaculture, bio-farming and fuel farming are more prosperous and employ more people than traditional agriculture. They could also create an industry that has a far better future, without subsidies.
Margaret Beckett: People may or may not like what Lord Haskins has to say, but it is generally recognised that he is always a thoughtful and stimulating contributor to debate. My hon. Friend has drawn on some of the ideas that are in the public domain and being discussed. They are also very much ideas that we hope that the policy commission will consider and take into account when it makes its own recommendations.
Margaret Beckett: I should make it plain that it is not the intention that all that money will go to Cumbria. Clearly, however, the flavour of what Lord Haskins says is that many of the problems have been more severe there. Of course the Government recognise that the problems are more widespread.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): My right hon. Friend will appreciate that, with 134 cases in North Yorkshire, many of which have been in its two national parks, the impact on our sub-regional rural economyparticularly in my constituency in the Esk valleywas much the same as the impact in Cumbria. Will she confirm that North Yorkshire will share in substantial support to deal with that impact? Will the national park authorities, with their expertise, be used to tackle the problems of overstocking, especially in the sheep sector, that face many of my constituents?
Margaret Beckett: We are listening to the views and input of the various authorities on the future direction of policy. We shall also examine the distribution of the money. I am sure that not everyone will be satisfied, and that everyone will think that there should be more for their area, but I hope that people will recognise that it is a contribution.
I should also like to share with the House a piece of information of which I have just been reminded. Lord Haskins was in fact recommended as the person to conduct the study by the National Farmers Union in Cumbria.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): Those of us who have not had access to the papers rather assumed that the £24 million that the right hon. Lady has announced was specifically targeted on Cumbria. If that is not so, will she make it clear? At the beginning of this debate, the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) rightly raised the essential issue of the quantum of compensation. Have we heard her last word on that subject? Can we tempt her to keep open the possibility of increasing the sum if demands increase in other parts of the United Kingdom? Specifically, what new money will be made available in south-east and south-west Scotland as a result of her announcement today?