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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). He was right to say that there is almost no support for combining the police forces in Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire. I hope that he can influence the Home Secretary, who seems intent on ignoring all local opinion and pressing ahead with those proposals. They were not mentioned just over 12 months ago, when the Government were re-elected.

The Government are becoming notorious for their broken promises, on road congestion, climate change, carbon emissions, pensions, the Child Support Agency, dentists and so on. Indeed, all hon. Members can draw up a list; the Post Office was mentioned earlier. Last year, the Government picked up one of the policies that the Opposition were pursuing with some vigour to reduce council tax for pensioners by £500. The Government tried to trump us and introduced a £200 reduction for pensioners, but only for a year. They did not tell anyone at the time that it was going to be for only one year. I got a leaflet in my flat in London last weekend from the leader of the Labour group in Lambeth council. The leaflet said:

It is a pity that they did not try to influence the Chancellor before he made his Budget speech.

The main reason for my speech today is that I want to talk about some specific issues that are important to my constituency and to the people of West Derbyshire. For some years, I have been pressing the Government to resurface the A50, which is a very heavily used concrete road that links the M1 and the M6. I was delighted when, in April 2003, I received a letter from the then Transport Minister, the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), saying:

for resurfacing. I then got a letter from the Secretary of State for Transport to confirm what the Minister had said. In a letter dated 22 July 2004, he said:

once finalised budget decisions have been taken.

Hon. Members can therefore imagine my sorrow, and that of all those who are affected by this very noisy road, when I received a letter from the Minister of
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State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) in June 2005, in which he says:

in the past, these decisions have been taken by the Highways Agency—

So there we have it. It was not the Highways Agency but Ministers who decided that the resurfacing would not happen, and I want to hold the Government to account. For two and a half years, we had promises that it was going to happen, and that we would get the benefit of the road resurfacing. Then, lo and behold, mysteriously, just after the general election, we were told that the promises that were made before the general election no longer held any weight. That is very disappointing to my constituents, and to all the people in Doveridge and the surrounding area. It is not only Doveridge that is affected.

I have the honour to represent one of the most beautiful constituencies in the country. The Peak district attracts more than 20 million visitors each year. It is known as the lungs of England, and is within an hour's drive of 60 per cent. of the UK population. One of the biggest issues in the area is that of quarrying. A few months ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) came up to look at a problem at Backdale quarry, and he was very sympathetic to the case that the Peak park was making that a stop notice should be served on that development. Indeed, he encouraged and helped the Peak park along the way.

So it was with great disappointment that I heard yesterday that a public inquiry into the issue, which had already been postponed once, has been cancelled just a few weeks before it was due to start. I wonder why that particular public inquiry would be cancelled at short notice. Unfortunately, it is true to say that this comes after the Deputy Prime Minister declared that the stop order preventing quarrying at Longstone Edge was null and void. The park authority had issued the stop order to the quarry firm in January. The decision to overturn the stop order comes after a similar order by a local authority imposed on a company in Wales was thrown out by a judge.

The people in the Calver area have been waiting for a determination from this public inquiry for quite some time, and it is very disappointing that yet again the stop order has been overturned. Between 2003 and December 2005, some 573,000 tonnes of limestone were quarried in Backdale. Only 11,500 tonnes from that extraction were for fluorspar, which is what is allowed to be extracted under the present regulations. That is why the inquiry was due to take place, but it has been cancelled yet again. This is causing great disquiet throughout the Peak district. It is time for a serious re-evaluation of this case, so that lessons can be learned for other parts of the country.
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We have been assured for the past 12 months or so that the single farm payments would be made on time. Indeed, the latest edition of Farming Link from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs states:

and that those payments will be made by the end of March. I believe that the end of March is tomorrow, and I do not think that that target will be met. Even the Government now accept that there is no chance of that happening.

This is causing devastating problems for the rural economy. The payments have been made in Wales and Scotland, but because of the particularly complicated system introduced by the Secretary of State, England is suffering from an almost complete computer failure and farmers are not going to get the money that they were expecting. This is causing serious concern in the rural areas of my constituency. This morning, I spoke to a young farmer from Ashbourne, Mr. Cotterell, who told me that the Department was full of chaos and confusion. That attitude towards DEFRA is now recognised throughout the agriculture industry.

Mr. Heath: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is raising this issue, which is important for many rural areas, including my own. Does he agree that there was always an argument for making an interim payment to farmers before detailed calculations were made? In the light of the debacle at the Rural Payments Agency, that argument is now overwhelming. Those payments must be made if businesses are to survive.

Mr. McLoughlin: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. All of us who represent farming constituencies or rural areas understand the problems that this is causing.

The Government's apparent disregard for the rural economy is the most dispiriting thing for my constituents. I have seen many thousands of farmers, and they also want to know when the Government are going to take some action on bovine tuberculosis. The Government's record is one of promises of action, followed by inaction. Yet another consultation will not inspire the confidence that they have the will to tackle the disease effectively. Meanwhile, the disease is spreading. The number of cattle slaughtered in Derbyshire under the TB measures rose from 57 in 1998 to 608 in 2005. The number of new confirmed bovine TB herd incidents increased from seven in 1998 to 66 in 2005. The cost to the taxpayer nationally has increased from £17 million in 1997 to more than £90 million in 2004–05. The Government have spent eight years delaying what I accept are difficult decisions. Unless they make those decisions soon, however, badgers, cattle and farmers will continue to suffer.

There is genuine concern in the rural economy about the attitude of the Government to agriculture, and about the attitude of the Secretary of State to the farmers whose interests she is supposed to look after. I have had correspondence from Mrs. Pilkington, who farms in Hartington, and asks, "Where is the money?" The shambles that is the Rural Payments Agency is a disgrace. What makes it more of a disgrace is that the
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Government have been warned consistently by Committees of the House that there was a problem. Not long ago, the Minister responsible dismissed the report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and said that everything was fine. Sadly, we now know the truth, and it is not fine.

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