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The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow, but he said one thing that could be open to misinterpretation. He is right that farmers whose animals were culled
Mr. Osborne: I am grateful to the Minister for making that point. What I meant by cash flow was that they had money going through their bank account. Many other farmers who did not have the epidemic on their property have had no money flowing through their bank account: on the contrary, money has been flowing out of their bank account.
The first issue relating to the impact of foot and mouth in my constituency is the large indirect loss that so many of my farmers incurred as a result of the Government's emergency regulations. What do the Government propose to do to help them? Without help, some of them will simply go to the wall.
The second issue is support for rural businesses and tourism in my constituency, which continue to suffer great hardship. I am grateful to the English Tourism Council, which sent me a letter when it saw that I had secured this Adjournment debate. It makes it clear that the problems in my constituency are shared by many other constituencies, with a projected overall loss in England of £5.2 billion. However, this is not the place to go into the broader effects of the foot and mouth epidemic on the English tourism industry. I will concentrate instead on Tatton.
I am not sure whether the Minister has ever been to Stockley working farm at Arley in the course of his duties. If he has not, I invite him to do so. This summer, I visited Mark Walton, who runs the working farm with his family. Mark Walton has done everything that every Agriculture Minister for the past decade has been urging farmers to do.
Mr. Osborne: He has diversified, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) says from a sedentary position. This May, after two years of preparing to go organic, he finally did so. He has sought to break down the barriers between town and country and to increase our understanding of agriculture. He has established a thriving tourism business on a working farm. So successful has he been that each year, from Easter onwards, 50,000 visitors come from the towns and the cities to his farm. A visit costs £4 for adults and £3 for children, and I venture to suggest that it is about the best value for money that one can get for a day out in Cheshire. Many of the visitors are in school groups from inner-city Manchester and Liverpool who have never seen a farm before.
The farm has 50,000 visitors a year, but not this year. This year, not a single visitor has come to Stockley working farm and not a single pound of income has been earned by this once thriving rural tourist attraction. It has been closed to the public since February as a result of the foot and mouth restrictions.
I am delighted to saythis may be an opportunity for the Minister to put it in his diarythat Stockley will open its doors for three special weekends in the run-up to Christmas. They will be fantastic days out for children and adults alike, and I hope that many thousands of people
Since foot and mouth hit, Mark Walton has done everything by the book at Stockley. He has applied for special grants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; he has sought advice from business links; and he has spent hours putting together an application to Cheshire county council's rural recovery taskforce. He has not asked for large sums of money or for massive compensation. All he wants is a little help to enable him to promote the special Christmas weekends at Stockley.
Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): Does my hon. Friend accept that there is parallel between what happened in his constituency of Tatton and what happened in my constituency of Rayleigh? If I can explain briefly, Marsh Farm country park which was very much orientated towards children
Mr. Osborne: I am sure that my hon. Friend's point about the many rural tourist attractions and working farms across the country that have been hit would have been a good one. What happened at Stockley working farm has no doubt been repeated all over the country. I would have drawn the terms of the debate a little more widely if I had known that I would have been able to detain the House for so long. However, I did not know that, so I shall proceed.
My hon. Friend waxes lyrical about a particular farm and its activities. Is he aware that a member of that worthy farming family, which has taken such initiatives, appeared at a seminar that I attended in my hon. Friend's constituency at Quarry Bank mill in Styal. It was promoted by Macclesfield borough council and was about healthy eating and healthy food sourced locally. The farm and farming family to which my hon. Friend referred have done everything possible in their power to help themselves and to serve the public.
Mr. Osborne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing to the House's attention the excellent meeting at Quarry Bank mill about which I have heard good reports. The mill is another excellent tourist attraction and I encourage the Minister to visit it if he is ever in Cheshire.
My hon. Friend's point about the Walton family and Stockley is the one that I made. They have done everything by the book. In a previous incarnation, I was a special adviser at the late lamented Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I remember helping to write speeches for NFU annual conferences.
The Government talk of a rural recovery and helping rural communities to help themselves. Ministers from the Prime Minister down talk of encouraging diversification, but for many rural farm businesses in my constituency it has been just that this yearall talk. I want to know when we can expect to see some action and obtain some help for businesses such as Stockley farm.
My third issue relates to the assistanceor, indeed, the lack of assistancethat the Government are providing to Macclesfield borough council. Earlier this summer, under Special Grant Report (No. 86), Ministers decided to help the local authorities that they said had been particularly affected by foot and mouth. As the Minister knows, that help comes in the form of a rebate for emergency rate relief that is provided by local authorities for hard-hit rural businesses, exactly the kind of emergency rate relief that Macclesfield borough council was able to provide to Stockley working farm.
I was fortunate to be on the Standing Committee that considered the special grant in July. Indeed, it was my first Standing Committee. I said that I welcomed the valuable support for local councils that were dealing with the impact of the disease. What I could not understand then, and cannot understand now, is why Macclesfield borough council alone among the six borough councils of Cheshire does not qualify for the support. It is nonsensical. Of the 16 or 17 outbreaks in Cheshire, four occurred within the borough council area and a further five occurred within a mile or two of the administrative boundary. In other words, nine of the 16 cases in Cheshire, which have had a huge impact on the farmers and rural businesses in the Macclesfield borough council area, do not qualify for help because the council does not qualify for help.
By contrast, Chester City council and Ellesmere Port and Neston borough councilneither of which have had to cope with a single outbreakhave been designated as foot and mouth affected areas and receive Government support. The Minister explained in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield on 26 July that unlike Ellesmere Port and Chester, Macclesfield borough council did not qualify because it was not rural enough. He said: