Monthly Archives: October 2012

Rory pushes question of how an Independent Scottish Border would affect Cumbrians

In the first evidence session for the Foreign Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry into the implications of Scottish independence, Rory pressed witnesses on the impact of Scottish sovereignty on Cumbria.

Raising a chuckle as he began, “As the only member of parliament with ‘border’ in the constituency’s name”, Rory asked whether Scottish independence was not “a recipe for uncertainty for an economically deprived part of northern England”. The day’s inquiry was then focused on the possibility of border and frontier checks.

Witness Professor Richard Whitman of the University of Kent talked of the potential uncertainty which would come if Scotland did not or could not join the EU, immediately after independence, perhaps because of complicated negotiations about the Euro and Common Fisheries Policy, saying:  “All the states that have acceded to the European Union [recently] have had to accept both the single currency membership as an obligation and the Schengen agreement [on open borders] as an obligation.”

The witnesses added that since Scotland was likely to have a more liberal immigration policy than England, there would be strong pressure for English checks on the land border. And the remaining UK would be under pressure to make sure that its own border controls for people entering from outside the Schengen zone were sufficiently robust so as not to create problems for the Schengen members.

“The single currency is one thing but it’s the Schengen [border] issue that requires the most working through to make sure it doesn’t lead to absurdity,” said Professor Whitman. “The easiest solution politically would be for the rump UK to join Schengen but the more you look at it, the more you realise it’s irresolvable.”

Rory stated his bemusement at the Scottish desire to secede, stating: “We are intertwined. More than fifty percent of phone calls made in Carlisle – formerly a frontier town and the most besieged place in the British isles – are to Scotland. The village of Kershopefoot has a TD9 Scottish post-code, and many services are provided from North of the border. In Britain, our border with Scotland represents more a unity than a division. We are now in the centre of Britain, Scottish independence will put us on a difficult periphery, facing immigration and Schengen issues, which will benefit neither Scotland nor England.”

Rory pushes for more power for local communities

Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Local Democracy, Rory, this week demanded more power for local communities whilst hosting the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Speaking at the event, and drawing from his recent articles on localism, Rory said:  “We must give local communities more power. Power to raise revenue, and to take decisions. We must ensure that they are actually democratic – that the structures are clear, and healthy, which link the representatives to their public. In Cumbria, we have had villages not only saving local pubs, but building 22-house affordable housing schemes; communities not just building cycle paths, but working out how to connect the most remote valleys to superfast broadband; not only taking over tourist information centres but also taking responsibility for planning policy. Each of these local initiatives springs from frustration at a lack of common-sense, at the failure of central government to deliver. Each community has recognised what needed to be done, how to do it more cheaply and effectively, and has succeeded.”

“The state must now recognise this success; must respect the knowledge, the skill, the adaptability of living communities; and get out of the way. Officials should recognise how little they understand about the history and context of particular local communities. The state must learn in the most generous and human sense to delegate: to trust that when local communities are given responsibility, they will treasure it and flourish.”

Rory has worked with NALC in leading the “What next for localism?” inquiry. It will examine how successful the government has been in giving power away to local communities, and to parish and town councils in particular. The event was also used to launch a series of articles by key thinkers across the political spectrum, all providing their own answers to the question “What next for localism?”

The inquiry was welcomed by the new minister for Local Government, Brandon Lewis MP who said: “The Localism Act is not the end, it is just the beginning. We’re looking to do far more than we’ve already done. This is a really exciting time for local government across the board, the chances are there and it’s up to us to make the most of these opportunities”

The Chairman of NALC, Councillor Michael Chater OBE, welcomes the government’s commitment to the localism agenda, but also challenges both those in central government and at the parish and town council level, to do more, saying: “We must come up with radical new ideas to help hyper local democracy truly flourish into the future. The Localism Act does not mark the end of our ambitions for local councils, it marks the start of the next phase. This might mean new powers, reform of old ones, red tape swept away, more investment in some initiatives and less in others, radical changes in practice and procedure, much more innovation and creativity. We want this discussion to be open, transparent and inclusive – that’s why we’ve set up this microsite. We want to hear your ideas to help shape the future for local councils and help us answer the question – what next for localism?”

People are being encouraged to contribute to the enquiry – through a dedicated website at – – where they can share their own ideas and rate and comment on other people’s submissions.

Lessons from our woodlands

If you had climbed the pale soaking fell-grass out of Bewcastle, and passed the Bloody Bush, you would have seen Tynedale:  close-cropped pasture behind dry-stone walls,  owner-occupied farms, Milburns and Dodds, and the bastle-houses of bandits, converted to barns. But now the shape of the valley can only be guessed at. A rough carpet of black-green needles, trembling forty feet above the ground, conceals the land. Alaskan pine tops, climbing up to Peel Fell, engulf the stone markers, lean down towards Carter Bar and Redesdale, and colonise 200,000 hectares of moor, mire and upland farm. And at its centre, with houses drowned beneath the waves, lies a vast artificial reservoir, built too late for an industry that no longer exists. This is Kershope and Kielder. There are delicately-laid mountain bike trails, and in clearings you can hear the great glass-cabined harvester machines, ripping and slicing trees. But I have walked for a whole day, clambering around fallen trunks in the fire breaks, stumbling over the bare ridges and furrows, without seeing a human and hardly a bird.

Almost all of us, instinctively, want to protect woodland. But when we think of forests we tend to think of native trees – the ash of Cumbria, the coppiced hazel and thick-girthed sessile oak under the cliffs and caves of the Eden between Armathwaite and Wetheral. We are interested in the ancient woodland of the Fairy Tables along the Black Lyme, because its soil – undisturbed for hundreds of years – preserves unusual lichen and insects. But the creation of Kielder involved draining thousands of acres of rare upland mosses, ploughing and close planting ancient grasslands, and replacing it all with miles of American sitka monoculture. But hundreds of thousands protested against the government selling off public forest estate, such as Kielder; the independent panel on forestry has just agreed with the protest; and I support their call. Why?

The answer is that in forestry – as in farming – commercial production is vital to sustaining things far beyond sitka monoculture. Timber processing brings 600 million pounds a year to Penrith and the Border, and provides employment (through BSW, Jenkinson’s and others) for 2,500 people – more than a third of the total number of forestry and wood-processing jobs in England. And it is a good industry. We are learning again that wood is one of the most impressive, renewable products for building houses: it can be felled, replaced and recycled in a way that is inconceivable for aluminium. Wigton’s Innovia is showing how wood cellophane can be spun into the most extraordinary films, for packing and labelling: entirely renewable and biodegradable, and in a manner that is impossible for plastics.

Meanwhile, such business preserves a whole tradition focused on public access, and diverse species. Employment in the commercial sector continues to draw thousands to develop their skills as foresters, and study at places such as our National School of Forestry at Newton Rigg. And this education and skills-base underlies the thousands more who go on to work as professionals or volunteers in ancient forests. The environmental programmes – from planting native broadleaves around the spruce, to regenerating the moorland – are often run by commercial estates. And at Kielder you can see the Forestry Commission putting more and more energy into bringing visitors into the estate: developing the reservoir as a beauty spot, creating a beautiful bridge for a marathon track, or opening an astronomical observatory for the public.

This is a lesson for farming too. There – as in forestry – commercial production matters. In both cases, it provides the incomes and maintains the enterprises, which both people and sustain the landscape.  (And too single-minded an attitude towards re-wilding or creating natural landscapes can be counter-productive – as when reducing stocking rates too far makes hill grazing untenable and farms inactive). In both cases, Government has a role. Trees take forty years or more to grow, and grassland evolves slowly. These are not simple commercial propositions – small changes in commodity prices can produce very damaging long-term results for our industry, our products, and our landscape. Hence, I was pleased that the Government dropped its proposal to sell-off the forest estate.

But let me end with a note of caution. The Independent Panel Report wants to increase by fifty per cent the amount of woodland in Britain. Others want to double the tree-cover in the Lake District, expanding it from ten to twenty per cent of the landmass. We have not been a country of limitless Hansel & Gretel forests at any time in recorded history. (We now know that Northern Cumbria had been felled and planted before Hadrian’s Wall was laid). And, despite all the benefits of forestry, we should not aim to become one now. Our forests are a unique and wonderful heritage, but they should exist alongside, not instead of, other landscapes we love: open moorland, smooth slopes, and upland sheep farms. The interest of the British countryside lies in its balance between valleys, cliffs, woods, fells and pasture. Kielder is a prodigy, Ennerdale is a delight, but we should not set a target which would drown Ullswater or Wastwater under trees.


Rory gives his support to the NFU’s ‘Farming Delivers’ campaign

Rory this week chaired the NFU’s ‘Farming Delivers: Farming’s role in the nation’s future’ fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, where Secretary of State Owen  Patterson, and Defra Minister Richard Benyon shared a platform with NFU President Peter Kendall, Deputy President Meurig Raymond and Vice President Adam Quinney.

The fringe event provided the Secretary of State and Defra Minister an opportunity to set out the Government’s view for the future of British food and agriculture and to focus on the role of the NFU campaign ‘Farming Delivers’. A wide range of topics were discussed by the panel and delegates in attendance including Bovine TB, Dairy Farming and reform of the European Commission’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

During the event, Rory who earlier in the summer recess hosted an important dairy summit at Dolphenby Farm at Edenhall, Penrith, gave his support to the NFU’s ‘Farming delivers’ campaign and said: “”Farming issues have been at the forefront of national political debate this year, and I am delighted to support this important campaign. The NFU remains one of the most effective vehicles for farmers to shape policy, and I am impressed at the way in which they engage with the industry, actively lobby MPs and Ministers, and ensure a coherent, unified voice is heard. The future of farming is not just about food production: it is about better infrastructure, and technology; about health status, and vigilance; about cutting red tape and bureaucracy, and implementing mechanisms such as the Groceries Adjudicator; and of course about sustaining our farming communities. I believe we as a government are tackling these issues – and many more – in a holistic approach to farming that has been difficult to achieve to date. I am optimistic about Cumbria’s and indeed Britain’s farming future, and this debate has shown that we are here to listen to farmers, to act on their needs, and to follow through.”

In its most recent campaign report, NFU President Peter Kendall stated: “We decided it was time to move on from explaining why farming matters to Britain, to measuring and recording the very real benefits farming delivers for the country. Yet while the future of the industry remains largely in its own hands, there must be a strategic approach to food policy from within Government as well.”

Speaking at the event, Peter Kendall was positive about the future of British farming, but warned for the need of strong policy direction:  “I am incredibly optimistic for the future of British agriculture, but it does worry me that the positive noises that I hear uttered by coalition ministers on the importance of domestic production are not always matched by policy direction.”



Rory calls on the Government to adopt the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF)

Rory this week pushed hard for the adaptation of the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF) by the government at a well-attended Woodland Trust fringe event ‘Where next for England’s forests?’ at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.

The debate was chaired by Woodland Trust President Clive Anderson and Rory spoke alongside Environment Secretary Owen Paterson MP, Guy Opperman MP and Woodland Trust Chief Executive Sue Holden.

A strong consensus was met by members of the panel and delegates in the audience. In particular there was very definite support for the adoption of the Panel’s woodland creation target, to increase England’s woodland cover to 15% by 2060, and for Government to do much more to protect and restore our ancient woods.

Rory, referring to the Independent Panel Report’s findings as “highly intelligent” called for future Conservative policy to protect woodland, ensure public access and be economically viable.

He said:  “Given the importance of our Cumbrian woodlands – to our natural environment, our heritage and our future – it should come as no surprise that Cumbrians and indeed the British public reacted in the way they did to the original proposals to sell off our forests. The decision by government to enshrine our public forests as a national asset was an extremely welcome one which I wholeheartedly endorse. Much more still needs to be done however to develop a long-term strategy to managing our forests, and questions still remain over woodland creation targets and how they can be achieved whilst still supporting landscape and habitat restoration. This needs to be the next priority, and ensuring that our woodlands can co-exist and thrive alongside our other natural landscapes.”

Statement on FirstGroup and West Coast Mainline Franchise

“I would like, first and foremost, to reassure all constituents and users of the West Coast mainline that trains will be unaffected by the cancellation of the FirstGroup contract, and that every step will be taken to make sure that the service passengers receive will continue to be an excellent one. However, today’s news has come as a shock to many. My priority is to ensure that no constituents are adversely affected, and that there now follows a rigorous process of awarding the contract to the best bidder for the job. The government has accepted that there were serious flaws in the process, and Department for Transport staff have been suspended as a result. Responsibility is being taken by the government, and is squarely shouldering the full blame. We have to concentrate now on a solution that best serves passengers and taxpayers, and this is the bottom line. Obviously I will continue to press for the necessary upgrades to Penrith station, regardless of who the franchisee is, and will not rest until we see disabled access to the northbound platform.”


Rory nominates Ravenstonedale Parish Council and Fell End Community Broadband in national digital awards

Long-time broadband campaigner Rory has nominated Ravenstonedale Parish Council, accountable body for the Fell End Community Broadband project, for the national TalkTalk Digital Heroes awards of 2012. The annual awards are run by TalkTalk in association with Citizens Online and ‘Go ON UK’, and will be given to twelve winners voted for by the public, recognising “people who harness digital technology to bring about positive social change in their communities.” There is a top prize of £10,000, and runner-up prizes of £5,000 and free broadband access for 12 months.

Rory said: “This is the year in which we have finally seen our hard work in getting Cumbria the best superfast broadband in Europe bear fruit. The nation continues to look to Cumbria as the pioneering county that will demonstrate how we can bring super-fast broadband to our most remote communities. Fell End Broadband and Ravenstonedale Parish Council have worked tirelessly to develop their own broadband solution. This project has been made possible thanks to the great investment of time and energy by a group of dedicated local volunteers. Often taking time from work at their own expense to travel the length and breadth of the country to meet with telecommunications suppliers, civil servants and Government Ministers, Fell End Broadband has worked hard to ensure that infrastructure investment is spent wisely and delivers a service that is fit for the future and appropriate to the community it will serve – at a fraction of the cost that might have been charged by a more prescriptive, one-size-fits-all solution. A £5,000 grant would enable the Fell End Broadband project to do more work beyond the infrastructure delivery by creating public internet access points in public buildings on the network, including an education establishment for disabled children, a community place of worship, and a public house, and could also be used to provide training and support to the older residents of the network community who do not currently use computers, and yet have still given this project their full support.”

More information about the TalkTalk Digital Heroes awards can be found at

Rory supports APPG inquiry into issues affecting off-grid residents

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Off-Gas Grid has recently announced the launch of an inquiry into issues relating to fuels affecting off-grid constituents.  The inquiry will follow on from the recent work on off-grid fuel poverty by the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the 2011 market study of the off-grid sector by the Office of Fair Trading. The aim of the inquiry is to investigate the ways off-grid consumers are disadvantaged compared to mains gas users, the extent of this disadvantage, and methods for its alleviation.

Speaking on the issue within a local context, Rory welcomed the inquiry, stating:

“The latest statistics that I have seen make for sobering reading: over 60,000 households are now living in fuel poverty in Cumbria, equating to almost 28% of the county’s households. This equates to an increase of approximately 130% since 2005, which clearly is unacceptable, and the pattern appears to be more prevalent in Eden, with 38% of households calculated to be living in fuel poverty. This proposed inquiry will look into issues that will be affecting a significant number of Cumbrians because of the high levels of rural isolation within our county. I sincerely hope the inquiry highlights the scale and seriousness of fuel poverty, particularly in rural areas of the UK, and that its findings lead to further positive initiatives to address the issue, such as the Winter Warmth Campaign and the Warm Home Discount Scheme.”

Co-Chair of the APPG Therese Coffey MP said: “Four million households across the UK are not connected to the mains gas grid and are reliant on much more expensive heating sources.  They struggle to heat their homes adequately, and cold homes raise the chances of illness or worse in winter.  Despite this, off-grid consumers do not enjoy the same protections as mains gas users, so this inquiry seeks to highlight the problems of fuel poverty they face.  We hope to suggest measures which will help the most vulnerable people to heat their homes.”

The APPG is calling for interested parties to submit written evidence to the inquiry in response to the terms of reference which have been published today.  The deadline for submissions is Friday 12th October.  Oral evidence sessions will be conducted in late October, and the APPG hopes to publish its report by early December.