Easter Adjournment

Part of Deferred Division No. 85 – in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Shadow Chief Whip (Commons), Opposition Chief Whip (Commons) 1:08 pm, 29th March 2007

I begin by welcoming Paddy Tipping to his new position. It is a pleasure to see him on the Front Bench. He occupied the position once before and returns to the Front Bench, I understand, as an unpaid post, so presumably this is one area where we will see good value for money. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. When he previously held the post, and when he summed up these debates, he always did so with courtesy and respect for the House and for Members. I am delighted to see him back in the Government. I want to use today to raise several issues which directly affect my constituency. I raised some of these matters in the Christmas Adjournment debate, and I want to consider how they have moved on.

I want to touch on a real crisis for the countryside. Hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies feel incredibly worried about the position of dairy farmers. Approximately 10 years ago, a dairy farmer would get 26p a litre for their milk. Today, the figure is 18p a litre. It has been estimated that on average dairy farmers today are losing in the region of 4p a litre, and they cannot go on losing money on their main product without going bust.

The Government must take a serious look at the matter. This morning, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee issued a devastating report on the Rural Payments Agency. I remember earlier warnings from the Select Committee that the RPA was in serious danger—I think that the Deputy Leader of the House was a member of the Committee at that time—and I also remember Lord Bach saying that the Committee was wrong and that it had misunderstood the whole position. Who was wrong and who was right?

The devastation caused to the farming industry has been fundamental, and the Government's reputation has been seriously damaged. It is no good saying that the Secretary of State has apologised, because the situation is continuing. On 2 March, the RPA extended its final deadline for the return of the hill farm allowance forms, because it discovered that applicants had not received the explanatory booklet and declaration letter. The RPA is now re-mailing a number of upland farmers. That might explain why, according to the RPA, there was a failure by applicants to submit their declarations. It is difficult to submit a declaration if one has not been sent it in the first instance. There needs to be a radical look at how the RPA works, and perhaps that will now happen.

Without the farmers of this country, there would be no countryside. As the Deputy Leader of the House knows, my constituency is very attractive, and 20 million people a year visit the Peak District national park. The visitors come to see the natural beauty of my constituency, but if the land is not farmed, it will not hold its beauty.

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare has said this about the RPA:

"One of the problems that it highlighted when it published its interim findings a short time ago was that it had not had many complaints from farmers."—[ Hansard, 8 March 2007; Vol. 457, c. 1657.]

Following that comment by the junior Minister, I received a letter from a farmer, which stated:

"Most of us see our job to be producing crops and livestock. This is what provides our income. Anything that takes us away from that work tends to be seen as waste of time. In recent years we have been straight jacketed with paperwork from people sitting in front of computers who to justify their existence have to think up new schemes and forms to complete. It is not the fear of reprisals that stops the ordinary farmer from contacting you. Most will have asked question, 'Will it do me any good?' Experience says no. To provide you with evidence each of us has to search through our mountains of paper. And we just don't have the time".

I hope that the Government will take on board the proper concerns of the dairy industry, and of the agricultural industry, in our country.

The next issue that I want to discuss is the resurfacing of the A50. The A50 is a new road that has been built through part of my constituency, and it has become known as the Doveridge bypass. Traffic volumes have grown dramatically on the bypass. Indeed, it is a mistake to call that part of the A50 the Doveridge bypass, because following work in the Stoke area on the A500, it has become the M1-M6 link road. The Government published a 10-year plan—I think that we are now at the stage of five-year plans—and the then Secretary of State for Transport, who is now Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, wrote to reassure me that the 10-year plan included resurfacing some of the concrete roads in our country. He said that the A50 was in that particular scheme and that it would be done. Surprise, surprise, the 10-year plan never reached expectations, and I have been told that that road will not be resurfaced in the immediate future.

I have tabled written parliamentary questions to the Secretary of State for Transport, and I have written to the Highways Agency. Just the other day, I received a letter from the Highways Agency that contained some very disturbing news:

"As you know the current policy with regard to funding all works on the motorway and trunk road network is entirely dependent on safety and maintenance needs. Concrete roads are designed to have a life of approximately 40 years, but the condition of all roads are regularly assessed for safety and maintenance. Therefore under current procedures it is unlikely that the A50 will need resurfacing for some time."

The goes against the assurance that I was given by the then Secretary of State for Transport.

The condition of the A50 has damaged the quality of life in Doveridge. When the bypass was built, people were pleased, but they did not expect one problem to be replaced by another, namely consistent noise in the daytime caused by the concrete road.