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The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to take such action as is within his power to ensure that a roundabout is constructed at the junction.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I am pleased to have secured this debate, although I do not think that the ballot has been particularly kind to me. I first applied in November, and my speech has therefore had to be changed somewhat.
In February 2001, the world as we know it in Cumbria was turned upside down. Services were totally disrupted, there was despair in many parts of the county, and our economy was in a serious state. By July this year the foot and mouth epidemic had started to slow downwe were getting on top of itbut well over 40 per cent. of foot and mouth cases in the United Kingdom were in Cumbria. We had to work out how we were to survive the next 12 months, and how the county's economy could be rebuilt.
A meeting was held in July near Bassenthwaite lake, which I attended, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham), at which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was pressed by local members of the National Farmers Union to appoint what they called a chief executive to oversee the recovery of the economy in Cumbria. I was pleased when my right hon. Friend suggested Lord Haskins for the job, as I had previously proposed him to my right hon. Friend. More importantly, I was pleased because Lord Haskins had experience as the owner of a large farm in east Yorkshire, and of leading a large, national food company. He was known for his no-nonsense approach and straight talking.
Lord Haskins was appointed and he got on with the job. I want to place on record my thanks to him, and those of the people of Cumbria for taking on a job that was not easy. He was not paid and, at the beginning, the job interfered with his holidays. It gave him many sleepless nights, but not only did he visit Cumbria many times; he also went to the west country and to Northumbria.
Lord Haskins produced the report in record time. He was appointed at the end of July, and the report came out in October. It identified Cumbria's short-term problems, and offered a forecast of the situation in the county over the next five years. Haskins made 12 recommendations for the short term, and the Government responded in Decemberagain in record time, given that the report had only been published in October. The Government accepted most of Haskins recommendations, and they are now being implemented. However, I want to bring two issues to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister.
The first has to do with footpaths. The Haskins report stated that all footpaths in Cumbria should be declared open by Christmas, as they are so important for the tourist industry. The good news that Cumbria is free of foot and mouth is contradicted by the bad news that nearly 10 per cent. of our footpaths remain closed. People do not understand that, and think that all the footpaths are open.
On Saturday, I addressed the annual meeting of the Ramblers Association at a venue in the lake district. The association's members are very worried about the matter. They are also well aware that, until the foot and mouth epidemic closed all the footpaths, walkers in Cumbria and throughout the land were looked on as a bit of a nuisance. The economic effect of footpath closures has been felt in all rural areas, and especially in those sparsely populated areas where the economy depends on people who go walking. One positive thing that came out of the meeting was that the association was going to develop a closer relationship with the tourist industry, with a view to developing more rights of way.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he join me in condemning P & O, which sought to exploit the foot and mouth epidemic? The right of way through Larne harbour was closed as a result of the foot and mouth restrictions. They have been lifted, but the company refuses to open the gate and restore access.
Lord Haskins said that in the short term, £40 million was required. In her statement last October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to £24 million but hoped that more would become available. Of the original £40 million, £20 million was supposed to go to Cumbria. I checked with Cumbria business link today and understand that it has received £17 million. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will find the other £3 million. Many people who applied for grants will have received them but others could lose out.
The Government have put about £1 billion into Cumbria. If the cost of the outbreak was £2.7 billion and more than 40 per cent. of it occurred in the county, £1 billion has gone into the local economy. Much of that will be lost when farmers buy stock outside Cumbria but that £1 billion has done a great deal. From February to September, unemployment in Cumbria dropped by 1,500. I have checked with the Library and jobless figures have dropped in every area in which there was foot and mouth, including Northumbria. Money going into the local economy has stopped the county's so-called economic meltdown.
Opposition Members said that there would be a major recession, and there was one estimate that 15,000 jobs were at risk. Fortunately, both predictions proved wrong. However, it is no consolation to people who have lost their jobs that others have notand businesses have gone bankrupt. Some people, through no fault of their own, have not received compensation and their businesses will not survivebut the money put in by the Government will ensure a better economy next year.
Foot and mouth had not only an economic but an emotional impactespecially on farmers. Lord Haskins said that farmers generally were fairly compensated and that some were generously compensated. However, for farming families that had bred livestock for generations and saw it destroyed in not the best of circumstances,
The NFU report was critical of the Government, as I can be because I refuse to defend the way in which they dealt with the disease in the first instance. The problem is that according to the NFU report, not one farmer in any part of the country was to blame for anythingnot even the farmer at Heddon-on-the-Wall, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson). The report says that everything was the fault of the Government, the vets or the agencieswhich is wrong. The NFU vacillated as much with regard to vaccination as the Government did, and the report shows that it is still doing so. I hope that the NFU will hold a small-scale inquiry into lessons to be learned by its own organisation.
Before I discuss the mid-term proposals of Lord Haskins' report, I should like to draw attention to two issues. The first is a very local issue that concerns the villagers of Great Orton, a village that became famous for all the wrong reasons. It has on its doorstep the mass animal burial ground, where 500,000 animals are buried. Those people have probably suffered more than the villagers of any village in the country. They saw the slaughter taking place. Heavy vehicles went by 24 hours a day, passing the school. The villagers saw their village on television.
The villagers attended a meeting with an official from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and asked for some money for a play area for the children, as partial compensation for the fact that they had had to suffer so much. Obviously, DEFRA does not have money for play areas, as I am sure my right hon. Friend will acknowledge, but will he join me today in asking that some of the money that DEFRA paid in the landfill tax for the Hespin Wood site, which has gone into the community landfill tax trust, be spent on a play area? I understand that DEFRA may have paid £20 million to dispose of beasts on that site. The county council, which owns the company, will probably make twice as much profit as it cost it to fight foot and mouth. I ask the Minister to support me in asking that the landfill tax trust in my area pay for that playground. It would be only just.
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) in his place. The second subject that I wish to draw attention to is the problem of moving sheep around the country and identifying where they are. There has to be an identification system, whether electronic tagging of individual sheep or identification by flock. We need an office to run that system. We have a record in Cumbria of being able to carry out such tasks. In Workington we have the cattle movement centre, so if a site is to be selected to administer the movement of sheep it should be in north Cumbria.
I shall now discuss the medium-term recommendations. There was a belief in Cumbria that, because we now had all these empty fields, this was an opportunity, although a sad one, to transform farming there. In reality, that was never going to be the case. Cumbrian farming is back in business. Farmers are starting to re-stock. Some farmers will not return to farming. We shall have bigger dairy farms and perhaps fewer sheep. As I believe Lord Haskins said, if we can change the common agricultural policy we
The Minister has agreed to the recommendation for a rural action zone in Cumbria, and the regional development agency is providing £75 million. I should have been happier if it had been a Cumbria action zone, because I am worried that some of the priorities in the county may be skewed. There is some deprivation in my constituency, in the urban area, and on the west coast. In the past year on the Furness peninsula there has been heavy industrial decline and job losses. I hope that priorities will not be skewed.
A recent example that has nothing to do with the rural action zone concerns subsidy. The Government have given more money for rural buses; I agree with that policy totally. However, in Carlisle, Stagecoach has decided to cut the frequency of the urban service and transfer the buses to the rural area to chase the subsidy, creating a worse situation in the urban area. Of course, the reality is that the company should have put extra buses on and run the service, but they have not done so.
The Government did not handle the foot and mouth crisis very well, and I hope that the Minister will not try to defend that today. However, the county's economy has benefited from the £1 billion that has been provided, and the predicted meltdown has not happened. We will have a problem this winter, but if businesses, especially tourism businesses, can be helped to get through the winter, many of them will survive. Again, Lord Haskins looked at what was happening and reached a realistic view. His report is excellent, and I am pleased that the Government have accepted the majority of its findings.