Monthly Archives: July 2012

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Rory speaks out against wedding and funeral car hire legislation

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Rory has thrown his weight behind the wedding and funeral car sector, in response to the Law Commission’s unpopular proposals that would see wedding and funeral cars subject to the same legislation for taxis and private hire vehicles, leading to increased licensing, running and compliancy costs, and a level of bureaucracy that could signal the death knell for the business.

Rory joined David and Heather Graham, owners of Longtown-based vintage car company Silver Lady Wedding Car Hire, and drivers from Langwathby-based Cars of Distinction at the Smith’s Hotel in Gretna where he met and chatted with drivers likely to be affected, and helped to highlight the damage that this legislation could cause to small Cumbrian vintage-car businesses.

Rory said: “This is a great tradition that goes back over hundreds of years – where people can cross to Gretna to get married – so the wedding business, and particularly classic cars, is a wonderful part of what gives life and colour to the constituency. In the past wedding cars, like funeral cars, were exempt from taxi legislation and there is a move to change that. I think that would be a great pity, because it would make it very difficult for businesses like these to run. Silver Lady Wedding Car Hire, for example, relies on people who are volunteers, who do it as a hobby, and probably do it for five or ten days in a year. So to put people through the full cost of all the checks, legislation and licensing as though they were a full-time taxi driver is, I think, like taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut. I have written already to the Law Commission and will be writing again to the Chancellor and to the Department of Transport to ask that this sector remains exempt from this legislation.”

Heather Graham of Silver Lady Wedding Car Hire said: “We are delighted with our MP’s support. Currently we are in the consultation stage of the legislation, so it is really important for people to be able to object within this period. The effects on our business would be significant like they would be on most other exclusive wedding car hire businesses. It would be prohibitive and restrictive, and mean not only that we would need a private hire operators licence, but each of our cars would individually have to go through a local authority test which is six times more expensive than the current MOT test. A petition has also been launched on Thursday 26th July 2012 at the World Famous Blacksmiths shop in Gretna Green, for visitors & wedding parties to sign”.

Constituents who would like to express their objections can contact the Law Commission; the consultation closes on the 10th of September.  Email to [email protected] or write by post to Public Law Team (Taxi and Private Hire), Law Commission, Steel House, 11 Tothill Street, London SW1H 9LJ

 

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Rory teams up with British Gas to ‘Share the Warmth’

Rory is calling on local charities to take advantage of the British Gas Share the Warmth Scheme and pocket £50 for their efforts.

Charities in Penrith and the Border will be given £50 for every person on qualifying benefits they refer to British Gas for free insulation. As well as getting free insulation which will save them hundreds of pounds off their energy bills each year, the person receiving free insulation from British Gas will also be paid £50 once the installation has been completed.

Charities and people benefiting from the scheme do not need to buy their gas or electricity from British Gas to qualify for the deal. The £50 will be paid once the installation has been completed and there is no limit on the number of people they can refer. Charities that wish to take part in the scheme need to contact British Gas to register their interest by emailing British Gas at [email protected]uk. Loft insulation can save households up to £175 from their heating bills and cavity wall insulation can save up to £135. According to DECC, nearly half of Britain’s homes do not have adequate basic insulation. Only 57% of Britain’s lofts have been properly insulated and only 58% of cavity walls have been filled. All British Gas energy and services customers are currently eligible for free insulation.

Rory said: “It’s a tough time for both charities and homes in Penrith and the Border to make ends meet. This is a great scheme that can help charities raise revenue and help local residents save money. I’d encourage every charity to check and see if the people that they are helping can get free insulation and take advantage of British Gas’s offer.”

Jon Kimber, Managing Director of British Gas New Energy, said: “With household budgets stretched we know that people are looking at ways to save money. £1 in every £4 spent on heating is wasted due to poor insulation so energy efficiency can have a massive impact. We want to support those who need it most, and we are delighted to offer this scheme to local charities and people across Cumbria. If charities can help us provide support to the people they come into contact with then we’re happy to reward them for their efforts.”

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Rory’s campaign for rural mobile coverage in 4G triumph

Rory’s long parliamentary campaign to bring mobile coverage to rural areas celebrated a milestone today, as telecoms regulator Ofcom unveiled plans for the auction of fourth generation (4G) bandwidth for mobile phone services.

The long-awaited sales process comes as a direct result of Rory’s historic Backbench Business Committee debate in May 2011, when he introduced and steered a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons. His motion, urging OFCOM to increase the coverage to at least 98%, drew the support of over 120 MPs from all parties, and more than fifty spoke in the debate. The motion itself received more MPs’ signatures than any previous motion in living memory and it was carried unanimously at the end of its 3-hour duration.

Rory said: “It is fantastic news that OFCOM has responded to Parliament’s campaign in this positive way. We should soon begin to see a real difference in our everyday lives here in Cumbria and of course across the UK. Rural Britain is not being left behind, and we are making real changes in Parliament. Good broadband and mobile access will enable local SMEs – which here in the constituency power our economy – to compete more quickly, more cheaply, and in some cases worldwide. High-quality mobile signals will also allow sparsely-populated rural areas to finally use the incredible new technological opportunities available to them, such as the farming database systems that we have recently trialled on our dairy farms in association with FarmWizard. We can look to transform health through telemedicine, and education through distance learning, highlighted by the recent visit to the constituency by Michael Gove. I firmly believe that improving mobile coverage and broadband is the single most effective thing this government can do encourage economic growth in rural areas. It has the potential to revive and transform our villages and towns.”

This investment will transform the fortunes of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, currently hamstrung by inadequate mobile phone and internet coverage. Hundreds of thousands of homes, schools, farms and businesses will get access to decent mobile and internet coverage for the first time.

The auction will start later this year, but bidding will not begin until early 2013, which Ofcom say is in line with its previous timetable. The regulator says it expects consumers to “start getting services in late 2013″. It says its plans should see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98% of people in rural areas across the UK, and the auction will offer the equivalent of three-quarters of the mobile spectrum currently in use – some 80% more than released in the 3G auction which took place in 2000.

 

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In support of dairy farmers

Half a century of pain – with five dairy farms going out of business every week since the Second World War – has terminated in crisis. At least half of all dairy farmers are now being paid less than their cost of production, and will soon be driven – unless something changes – into bankruptcy. Jim Paice, the Minister responsible, has agreed to come up to Cumbria to see our local farmers, and try to suggest a solution. But it’s not going to be easy. For a start, no two dairy farms are alike.

Walking along the River Eden last year, I saw friends with dairy farms near Appleby, Kirkoswald, and Croglin. Each family lived in a red sand-stone Cumbrian farmhouse, and served their visitor large plates of fresh scones and sandwiches. Each man was from a long farming tradition, had a quick brain, detailed technical knowledge, a clear sense of cost, and far more cows than their grandfather, each producing far more milk. Each day began in the splatter of the parlour pit at five in the morning, and continued through feed cake mixes, and health-monitoring – and driving the cows again through a second milking – twice a day, seven days a week. Each lived on a relentless never-ending treadmill, with udders ever-filling and needing to be milked, and a constant stream of expensive feed, expensive fertiliser for silage, and expensive tanks for slurry. Each had tied up over a million in parlour and milking machines and cows, and was locked in a rigid contract, with a processor that could drop the prices with little notice.

But every business was different, experimenting with varied breeds, feeds, and types of milking machines. Appleby was organic; Kirkoswald was non-organic with a fully-automated machine; and further along the East Fellside the cows were grass-fed. Those who were running intensive Holsteins with more months on indoor feed focused day by day on every detail of diet and condition as though they were monitoring an Olympic athlete. Those who have gone for a New Zealand model – with less time indoors, less grass conserved for silage, less expensive feed, and more time outside in the grass –had slightly tougher animals but produced less milk. They had to monitor soil temperature, check the exact condition and growth rate of the rye-grass, move the fences. Some sold milk targeted at cheddar, others premium organic liquid.  But all were ultimately effected by global commodity prices. The cost of fuel, fertiliser and feed determined month by month which model was more profitable. And because one litre of milk was like another, so marginal price differences allowed processors to switch from liquid, to powder, to cheese. And as milk prices fell outside Britain, the price of cream plummeted. And because there were thousands of farmers negotiating against a powerful wealthy, small numbers of processors and super-markets, almost all the loss was passed onto the farmers, who being tied into rigid contracts, were hit very hard.

How can an MP or a Minister help? First, by creating a regulator, to stop the supermarkets engaging in sharp practices at the expense of famers (colluding, or dumping milk as a loss-leader); second, by pressing all the buyers to sign up for more flexible contracts with farmers. If farmers were able to move between processors (rather than being tied in for over a year), the trade would be fairer, and they would be less brutally imprisoned by market movements. And if the contracts could be tied clearly to the global commodity price, farmers would at least understand how they were being paid, would be able to benefit from the good times, as well as suffer from the bad times – and begin to plan their business. If processors won’t accept these contracts voluntarily, we, in government, should force them with laws.

Government policy, however, is only part of the answer. Farmers also need to organise and co-operate more. Here, Cumbria may offer a national model. Because we are a long way from the retailers of the south-east, we have long had more processed milk, and more farmer co-operatives. This has not always been good –Dairy Farmers of Britain, for example, hurt many when it collapsed. But now that First Milk seems increasingly impressive, and Milk Link has been absorbed into Arla, Britain has two large, energetic processors, owned by farmers, which as they invest and diversify more will become better able to fight for farmers’ interests.

If the price cuts are reversed this week, some farmers – particularly those with liquid contracts in the South – may conclude that they don’t need to co-operate. But in the long-run, unless farmers form their own organisations and take back control of the relationship, the giant supermarkets and processors will pick them off, one by one. We should study the examples of farmers in Holland, Denmark, and New Zealand who have long been in strong, business-savvy co-operatives. And as I hope to explain to the Minister when he visits in two weeks’ time, the rest of Britain could study the steps Cumbria has already taken.

 

 

Rory Welcomes Red Diesel News for Tractors and Winter Gritting

Rory has welcomed news that changes to the law which would allow tractors to use red diesel for gritting roads have been published by the Government, and are close to implementation. Rory has on behalf of a number of constituents lobbied both HMRC, Defra and the NFU in recent months to press for a change in the law, which would enable farm tractors to grit local roads during extreme weather conditions. Currently, only purpose-built or adapted gritters may use red diesel when they are being used to grit roads. Tractors are often the only vehicles capable of both clearing and gritting roads in these communities.

Rory said: “This is great news, and shows that our lobbying efforts can pay off, particularly when common-sense dictates a sensible solution. Many rural communities are too remote to benefit from municipal gritting activities, leaving them cut off in times of severe weather. There are many, many such examples here in Penrith and the Border, and farmers in particular have written to me on numerous occasions to ask me to challenge what seemed to be a silly law. Once again, this government is proving that we can deliver on common-sense and flexibility, and in cutting unnecessary red tap. It’s another victory for rural communities.”

Steven Clarke, of the oils policy team at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), said a temporary relaxation in the rules could be made permanent. “In recent winters during extreme weather we have temporarily allowed tractors and other agricultural vehicles gritting rural roads to use red diesel. We are now considering whether we need to change the law to formalise this and make it permanent.”

The Government believes their use could make a difference in maintaining road access for supply vehicles and the emergency services during extreme weather. The recent series of severe winters in the UK has led to increased calls for farmers to use their tractors to grit roads in rural areas. During periods of extreme weather, HMRC has temporarily relaxed rules around use of red diesel and allowed tractors being used for gritting rural roads to be fuelled with red diesel.

Mr Clarke said HMRC would welcome views on the consultation document: “Use of rebated fuel for gritting in rural areas” from anyone who would be affected by any changes. It was also seeking responses from those involved in the provision of gritting services or equipment, including councils, agencies and other bodies. The consultation document ‘Use of rebated fuel for gritting in rural areas’ can be found online, and views must be sent to HMRC by 5 October 2012.

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Rory Backs Dedicated Commonwealth Channel in UK Borders Bill

Rory was one of ten signatories and sponsors for a new Private Members Bill, proposing that citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and other British “realms” should have a dedicated passport line at British airports.

The Ten Minute Rule Bill, which was read out on the floor of the House by Andrew Rosindell MP, is designed to recognise Britain’s special historical relationship “in peace and war” with the realms. It also calls for a portrait of the Queen, a Union Flag and other appropriate national emblems are displayed at all international entry points to the UK. And it proposes renaming the frontline element of the UK Border Agency ‘HM Border Police’ to reflect and recognise the role of the Queen in protecting the border of the land she reigns.

Rory said: “I was proud to be one of the signatories and sponsors of this Bill. It is a great pity that if you come from a realm where the Queen is the head of State, and land in Britain, you are given no recognition, and are instead made to line up in a sometimes two hour queue, while citizens of the European Union get a dedicated fast line. We have a special relationship with countries like Australia and New Zealand and Canada, and owe them a great deal, and this is a small symbol of recognition.”

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Rory Teams up with Tim Farron MP to Address Understocking of Fellsides

This morning, Cumbrian MPs Rory and Tim, as representatives of the Hill Farming APPG, met with Chair of Natural England, Poul Christensen, to discuss Natural England’s work within the uplands and the future of support for hill farmers.

At the meeting Rory and Tim congratulated Natural England for its recent change in attitude towards the uplands following the decision to drop the former ‘uplands vision’ programme, as well as their improving flexibility towards uplands farmers.

The MPs also pressed Mr Christensen for more concrete action on under stocking of our fellsides, arguing that farmers’ voices are still not being heard enough, and want more clarity on the economy and future of the Lake District.

Rory said: “I am delighted to be working with Tim on this issue. I do think we are in danger of destroying our fellsides and our sheep industry if we continue in the long-term to reduce and reduce stocking levels. Uplands farmers are at the very heart of the industry, and of an area that we and millions of visitors love.

“I hope this is the first of many meetings that we have with Natural England to ensure a more ‘sheep-friendly’ long-term strategy.”

Tim said: “It was extremely useful to meet with Poul today and to hear about Natural England’s future plans for the uplands.

“I am pleased to be working with Rory to ensure that both Natural England and the Government recognise that it is absolutely vital that the stewardship schemes do not essentially bribe hill farmers to reduce their animal stocks in order receive funding. This would be bad for the landscape, bad for tourism and bad for the local economy.”

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Rory Rebels Against Government Proposals for House of Lords Reform

Rory voted against the government on its proposal to abolish the House of Lords. He was one of 91 Conservative MPs who opposed plans which would have created a “senate” of politicians elected for 15 year terms without having to face re-election. This was the second largest rebellion within a party since the Second World War.

Rory added: “I am very sad to have to vote against the Government, but the British Constitution is the fundamental law that protects us all and I don’t believe that Parliament should ever attempt to change such fundamentals without a free vote, or a referendum.”

Due to the size of the rebellion, the Government was forced to withdraw the programme motion, and the reforms are now on hold.

In a very well-attended speech towards the end of the two-day debate Rory said: “Perhaps the greatest democratic challenge for this country in the 21st century is the constitution. It is in that respect that we are behind every other country in the world. Not a single responsible country remains that allows itself to change constitutional law as though it were ordinary law. The constitution protects the citizen from the Government. For this reason, the Government, who are temporary, have no right to interfere with the constitution of the people.

Today we find ourselves isolated in the world as the only country – the source of constitutionalism – that tries to behave as though there is no difference between constitutional law and non-constitutional law.

Let Hon. Members together take the great opportunity to ensure that constitutional change happens in future only through a referendum.”

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Rory supports Cumbrian dairy farmers

Rory joined thousands of farmers from across Britain in Westminster yesterday, at a specially convened NFU ‘emergency summit’ to discuss the latest rounds of dairy price cuts affecting the liquid milk industry, and hundreds of farmers in Penrith and the Border.

Rory said: “I am here to represent the many hard-working dairy farmers of Penrith and the Border, who are incredibly distressed by these recent price cuts. The profit ratios the retail trade have taken over the past 15 years have more than quadrupled, and some are paying below the cost of production. Yet again we are seeing very short-sighted decisions being taken now, which will potentially damage the industry for years to come. Farmers cannot go on getting 24p a litre for milk when it costs 30p to produce. I wholeheartedly endorse a reversal of these damaging cuts, and will do all I can to support our Cumbrian dairy farmers on this.”

The meeting illustrated how farmers are being pushed to the brink by the latest round of cuts of up to 2p a litre by major milk processors, on top of similar reductions in the spring. The NFU warned that many farmers will be forced out of business, with many losing up to 6p per litre, and they called for price cuts to be reversed by August 1st 2012.

Later in the day at No.10 Downing Street, Rory raised the issue of dairy farming personally with the Prime Minister and introduced him to a leading expert on the dairy industry. The Prime Minister expressed his continued determination to look for ways to support and help dairy farmers.

Rory is convening a dairy ‘mini-conference’ in August near Penrith, when Agriculture Minister Jim Paice is due to visit the constituency, and will take the opportunity to continue putting pressure on Defra to intervene in the issue of inequitable dairy contracts that allow dairies and processors to alter pricing indiscriminately.

 

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Rory Promotes Rural Emergency Services in Parliament

Rory continued his campaigning work as rural emergency services champion in Parliament yesterday, convening both a meeting with Mountain and Cave Rescue to discuss standard operating procedures, speaking in the parliament debate on Air Ambulance, and supporting a motion for a VAT rebate for Air Ambulances.

Yesterday’s Commons debate centered on  the “Return VAT on Air Ambulance fuel payments” e-petition, which has received 150,000 signatures. Rory Stewart was one of a number of MPs who pressed a parliamentary motion calling for recognition of Air Ambulance and a rebate on their VAT on fuel.  The government did not challenge the motion. Instead, it undertook to review the policy and consider a rebate on VAT.

Rory said: “I think we have won this debate. Last year we won a VAT rebate for Mountain Rescue. Now I think we’ll get one for Air Ambulance.  I couldn’t be more delighted. These are two of our greatest completely voluntary services, and a backbone of Cumbria. I’m delighted the government is listening.”

In the debate, Rory called for greater co-operation between mountain rescue teams and air ambulances in joint operations, and a resolution over territorial fundraising between the Great North and North West air ambulances, both of which operate in Penrith and the Border.

Speaking in the debate, Rory said: “One challenge we face in Cumbria is that mountain rescue finds it easy to co-ordinate with the police and the RAF, particularly when Sea Kings are involved, but very difficult to co-ordinate with air ambulances. Air ambulances appear to be reluctant to give information to mountain rescue teams as a standard operating procedure. Interoperability is a challenge, but I would suggest that it is a particular challenge with air ambulances.”

Rory will be convening a meeting in September in Parliament between mountain and cave rescue representatives, and air ambulance officers, to discuss this further and work towards a solution.

An active supporter of the Great North Air Ambulance and its Penrith-based ‘Pride of Cumbria’ craft, Rory also took the opportunity to raise his concerns in the debate about the fundraising activities of the North West Air Ambulance and the overlapping of territories with the Great North Air Ambulance, calling for a more disciplined approach to fundraising boundaries.

He said: “I warmly applaud the idea that there should be a strong focus on charitable fundraising, but the challenge we in Cumbria face is that the North West Air Ambulance is attempting to fundraise in exactly the same areas as the Great North Air Ambulance. They are both presenting themselves as the sole Cumbrian provider. We therefore have paid fundraisers fighting on the doorsteps, as it were, to get contributions from Cumbria’s very small population of 500,000 people. Air Ambulance is such a wonderful and vital part of our lives and we must do all we can to make its life easier and its operation more effective. “