Rural Economy

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:56 pm on 25th April 2001.

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Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Labour, Workington 5:56 pm, 25th April 2001

I understand that the hon. Gentleman's constituency is in a similar position. The answer is the restoration of trade, but we could introduce interim measures. Cumbria Crisis Alliance, a grassroots organisation that has sprung up in my constituency, and the local chambers of trade have produced some innovative thinking, some of which has already been reported to Ministers. We are thankful for the first stage measures introduced by Ministers on rate relief and tax concessions, and I have several recommendations for second stage measures that I hope the Treasury will seriously consider.

First, there should be an extension of the hardship relief from business rates scheme, especially in the Lake district national park. The period is currently three months; that needs to be extended, and soon.

I should like the £12,000 rateable value limit on property to be lifted. Tax assessments should average profits for the tax years ending in 2000 and 2001. That would allow current losses to be reflected as early as possible in tax payments.

I do not accept the Conservative proposition that a new borrowing scheme should be set up. However, I accept the principle behind that proposal, which is that there should be subsidised interest rates. The Treasury should seriously consider setting a borrowing ceiling of £10,000. Under certain conditions that I shall describe later, subsidy should be made available to help offset interest rate costs on borrowings made through established institutions.

I should like a job retention subsidy to be introduced to help keep people in employment in the tourism industry and related sectors. Such a subsidy would apply especially to live-in staff in restaurants and hotels in the Lake district. That would make a major contribution towards helping existing businesses retain the staff who work for them, or who have done so until recent weeks. A worrying advert appeared in my local newspaper only about two weeks ago. A firm in Edinburgh was advertising in Keswick for chefs. The implications will be readily identified by the House.

I should like free—if possible—or concessionary public transport arrangements to be established throughout the Lake district national park. Dealing with the crisis calls for real measures, but not necessarily a great deal of money. I should like all car parks in the Lake district that are open at present to be free of charge. I should like there to be free access—or, failing that, access at concessionary prices—to all environmental attractions, and even to lake cruises. That would be a major help in attracting tourists back to the area.

I should like help to be made available with the insurance premiums paid by businesses in my constituency. Such help would be of great assistance to guest houses, which, as commercial premises, pay substantially higher premiums than private houses.

I should like subsidies to be introduced to cover the advertising and promotion budgets of many businesses in the Lake district national park. Such subsidies should be based on the expenditure in those businesses' last two years' accounts, which means that vast amounts of money would not be involved.

I should also like the membership subscriptions to tourist associations and the Cumbria tourist board to be paid for many of the business in difficulty in my area. We should also consider underwriting the budgets of those local associations completely, if it is felt that that would be a better way to provide support.

How can we select the people to help? We have imposed on local authorities a requirement to asses the level of hardship where it occurs. I hope that the relevant criteria will be applied to the additional arrangements that I am calling for today.

My proposals apply to the Lake district, but they would also be valid in parts of Devon and central Wales. They would not be expensive. They are highly targeted, and do not amount to compensation. Someone should put a price on the package of measures that I have set out, as my resources are too limited for such a task.

I shall be leaving the House at the next election, but another hon. Member may well make the same speech in a couple of months, because the crisis will not go away. Everyone—people in Cumbria, hon. Members, and Ministers too—is trying valiantly to overcome the difficulties, but we face a major crisis. It must be dealt with, and I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he winds up the debate, will accept a proposition that I made the other day. That was that the organisations in my constituency that are wrestling with the problems every day should be allowed to give evidence directly to the national taskforce. I attended a taskforce meeting two weeks ago, and I was very impressed. The taskforce, with all its multi-ministerial representation, has a vital role to play.

Finally, I want to say something about vaccination. Peter Greenhill, chairman of the Mitchell's auction company in my constituency, has given me valuable advice about herdwicks, a variety of sheep. I advise Ministers to keep in contact with him, as he has a lot to say, especially about special breeds.

I do not know what the row over vaccination is about, especially with regard to meat consumption. Most cattle are vaccinated, and there is nothing new about that. If it is suggested that there should be special labelling of vaccinated animals, does that mean that all meat should be similarly labelled if the animal that it came from has been vaccinated? If so, almost every chop and other piece of meat in this country's butchers' shops would carry a label saying that the animal had been vaccinated.

As I understand it, some 40 vaccinations are already in use, and they apply right across the board. What is the difference between the foot and mouth vaccine and any other? The argument about vaccination and the need for compensation in connection with milk is nonsense. Vaccination is already an established practice, and vaccinating for foot and mouth would not amount to any change.