Monthly Archives: October 2013


As MP for Penrith and the Border and Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Mountain Rescue, this week Rory gathered around 50 MPs and Lords to meet the Mountain and Cave Rescue teams of England and Wales. The event is in conjunction with a week-long exhibition taking place in the Upper Committee Waiting Hall in the Houses of Parliament

The exhibition is aiming to raise awareness of the vital work that Mountain and Cave Rescue teams do across the country but also highlight the urgent need for a review in the way they are funded.

Mountain and Cave Rescue volunteers now assist emergency services in operations far beyond their original terrain and core skills, with absolutely no cost to the communities they work in. They take part in water rescue, missing person searches and multi-agency, major incident support. Throughout 2012, mountain and cave rescue volunteers across England and Wales gave an estimated 89,582 operational hours to communities, with a further 515,000 hours of fundraising and organisation.

As volunteers, team members do not get paid and operations demand an extremely high commitment from all team members. There are over 1,100 rescues each year in England and Wales, over half of these occurring in the Lake District. A typical rescue may involve up to 20 team members for around 6 hours on average, with volunteers doing this alongside their regular jobs.

Rory said: “I’m delighted to support this exhibition here in Westminster this week. We should be very proud of the amazing work that Mountain Rescue and Cave Rescue teams do across the country. Every year they clock up thousands of operational hours assisting, at no cost to the Government. The volunteers are incredibly dedicated with huge knowledge and one of the very few truly great acts of public service. We still need to do all we can to help Mountain and Cave Rescue teams operate with a minimum red tape and a maximum of support. I hope that many colleagues from both sides of the house will be able to visit the exhibition this week and see the vital work that both teams are doing and realise they need our help and support.”

David Allen, Chairman of Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) said: “We’re keen to show our representatives in Government just how many search and rescue situations involve our volunteer member. We’ve been involved in rescues from ravines, rivers and mineshafts and even searches across golf courses and in town centre high streets. We get involved in supporting the ambulance service in bad weather, especially on roads affected by snow and ice, in searches for vulnerable adults and children and in traumatic situations such as the recovery of suicide and accident victims. It’s certainly not all about mountains and outdoor sports. We get great support from the MPs local to our rescue teams and representing the key areas for our more obvious work such as North Wales and the Lake District and we’re hoping to extend this knowledge and support throughout Parliament this week.”

Mike France, Head of Fundraising MREW said: “Last year, volunteer rescuers gave 13,400 hours to the search for April Jones and that’s about 1,075 days of searchers’ unpaid absence from their work and families. Those same people are available 24/7 throughout the year for local call outs and they have to train for all these different situations and needs so it seems crazy that they also have to find time for fundraising just to keep their Teams going. There is a huge discrepancy between the financial support given by government to Scottish rescuers – about £16,480 per team – and the much more limited funding to English teams of just £2,246 per team. Welsh teams receive a small amount extra after recent decisions in the Welsh Assembly but we’re campaigning in Westminster for MPs to recognise the needs in both England and Wales. If government could guarantee a level of funding from the public purse closer to the Scottish figure, we’d be able to underwrite investments in vehicles and essential kit and subsidise essential training and insurance. We want to be able to ensure that our 3600 or so volunteer rescuers across England and Wales can focus their time and resources on getting the job done rather than having to worry about fundraising.”

The Opium is our Children

First published in INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine in November/December 2013.

If a Roman senator’s opium was his public life, a Viking’s was battle. Our ancestors have been addicted to honour, craved virtue and wealth, been hooked on conquest, on adventure, and on God. But ours is the first civilisation to find its deepest fulfilment in its descendants. Our opium is our children.

We’re all familiar with the results. There is the greater dismay we seem to feel at youth unemployment than at the poverty of pensioners, although some of the most disturbing scenes I’ve witnessed have been in the homes of the elderly. There is the way that older people are expected to give far more to voluntary organisations. We assume that the over-65s will take on almost the entire burden of supporting political parties, for which the young occasionally vote, and of maintaining the churches in which the young like to marry. We accept too easily that the young should not be called upon to carry the burden of sustaining communities because “their lives are too busy”.

People who might once have been public figures, deeply invested in their work, are instead busy serving their children. Ours is a culture not of ancestor worship but of descendant worship. Children must sense that nothing an adult does is more important than their own desires. All political questions seem to come down to the interests of “the next generation”.

I am reminded of the philosopher who was informed by a lady that the world rested on a turtle. When asked what the turtle rested on, she replied it was “turtles all the way down”. Our purpose is our children, whose purpose is their children. And so on. Each generation more important than the one before. Generation after generation, all the way down.

This seems a self-defeating, infinite regression. I’d prefer our opium to be the struggle to create a living civilisation, which might daunt even our descendants. We should seek to emulate previous generations. Our obligation cannot be uniquely to the young, and those yet to be born. It is also to the living, and to the dead.


Following their recent exchange of views on the future of the uplands, Rory and the environmentalist George Monbiot are to hold a debate in the Lake District in Spring 2014.

George Monbiot has called for the uplands to be re-wilded and for sheep farming to be replaced by a wilderness. Rory has dubbed this “willful blindness”, and has called for a policy designed to preserve small family sheep farms.

This is an increasingly controversial debate, as hundreds of small family farms have disappeared in the last decade and environmental policies are replacing sheep pasture with wild landscape. Rory’s campaign for upland sheep farmers has involved challenging all the major players in the Lake District to measure the impact of their policies on the numbers of small family sheep farms, and to predict how many farms will be left in twenty years’ time. His campaign has included many meetings with organisations such as the RSPB, Natural England, United Utilities, the Environment Agency, the National Trust, and the Lake District National Park Authority.

RORY STEWART MP represents the largest and most sparsely populated constituency in England, and the constituency with the highest percentage of upland farmland, with 1.5 million sheep. He believes passionately in a human landscape, and calls small family sheep farms our “last fragile link to a past that we love”.

GEORGE MONBIOT is an environmental campaigner, a regular columnist for the Guardian newspaper and the author of several books on climate change, including Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning. He writes regularly about climate change science and policy for the Guardian and his own website, often addressing claims made by climate sceptics.


Conservative MPs David Mundell, MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, John Stevenson MP for Carlisle and Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border have won their long campaign to keep Longtown open which has for nearly 6 years faced the threat of closure from a process started under the last Government.

The Government will be making a £1 million investment to keep a reduced site open, saving close to 200 jobs. At the same time many more options are being explored for commercial investments with seven companies showing an interest.

The MPs have invited the Philip Dunne MP, Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, to the site in November to meet with Trade Union representatives and local stakeholders to discuss these plans.

This brings an end to a three year campaign to save the site and local jobs and finally concludes Project Hadrian.

Rory Stewart MP said: “I am delighted that we have finally had a clear and successful conclusion to the long campain for the rentention of the site at Longtown. The saving of nearly 200 jobs at the site is welcome news which will put an end to years on worry and uncertainty. Longtown fulfils an invaluable role, not only to our defence systems nationally, but to the local economy, employing a significant proportion of residents in the Longtown, Carlisle and Gretna areas.  Our arguments of the importance of the site logistically, in terms of its capabilities, the expertise deployed by a staff and its important infrastructure links, have finally been heard by the Minister. I am very pleased that we have finally had an answer on the future of Longtown, and that it has been a positive one.’

John Stevenson MP said:  “It has been a long campaign but I am very pleased that the Government has recognised the importance of the Longtown site. Full credit must be given to my fellow MPs and the trade unions who, with me, have been working hard to ensure the future of the site.. The Ministers announcement is very welcome.”

David Mundell MP said: “This investment and commitment to an MoD future at Longtown represents the best possible outcome from what has been a long and difficult campaign to protect the site. After recent speculation that the site might close this news is a tremendous turnaround and is testament to the skills, expertise and track record of the workforce at Longtown, which played a key role in the decision making process. This process has shown the real difference it makes when local MPs and other representatives work together and everyone who has been involved in this campaign can take great pride in the outcome. In this region these sorts of highly skilled jobs are extremely valuable and retaining them is a big boost for the local economy and the wider community.”

Defence Minister Philip Dunne MP congratulated MPs Rory Stewart, John Stevenson and David Mundell who have long campaigned to save munitions work at Longtown. Mr Dunne said: “I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned hard to maintain Munitions handling at DM Longtown over several years. I have listened to representations, in particular from local MPs, but also the Trade Unions and local authority, and am pleased we have found a solution which will see the MoD invest over £1million to maintain munitions handling at Longtown, safeguarding over 180 jobs, and at the same time allowing commercial activities to be developed in parallel, with due safety and security, on part of the site.”


The Longtown munitions depot, which has been threatened with closure for years, has been saved today. We have preserved two hundred jobs in an area where there is not enough good employment. It is very good news. But this story didn’t begin in 2005 when the first announcement of closure was made.

In 1914 the area between Annan and Longtown was farmland – productive, impressive soil supporting more than a dozen farms. Then, in 1915, the Imperial War Office arrived and enclosed a patch of ground almost twelve miles long. The original farmers may have been descendants of border-reiving Maxwells and Johnsons; perhaps they had even been around since before the reiving times. In any case, their story ended in 1915. The War Office moved them out. They took their furniture and their memories elsewhere.

The War Office shipped the builders across the sea from Ireland. No-one knew quite what they were building. But locals were impressed by their drinking. The builders, it is said, would collect their silvers on a Friday to bribe the train driver to race to Carlisle where, in the pubs, hundreds of glasses of whisky were already laid out on the bar. As the drinking got out of hand, the government nationalised every drinking house within the region, limiting their opening hours, controlling their prices. Which is why, until 1973, our pubs around Carlisle were managed by the government.

The War Office began to turn this collection of small farmsteads into part of a vast industrial system that stretched to Africa and Asia. It was as though the Roman Army had returned to the Solway frontier, complete with auxiliaries drawn from all over the Empire. A manager was plucked from his civilian work in South Africa; another was posted in from British India. Then, thirty thousand women – many from the most remote Highland valleys – were imported for the site. At Eastriggs, a new Imperial garden town was created with model churches for different denominations to accommodate them (the streets are still called ‘Dominion Row’ and the ‘Rand’) – all this in about eighteen months.

The workers stirred great vats, squeezed, rolled, cut, packed and moved – and turned yellow from the fumes. Their packages were moved by train and then shipped to Normandy, where they were fired, night and day, at the German trenches. By 1918 they were producing 800 tons of cordite a week – more than every other British factory combined. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed by the cordite. It was a secret installation, and was placed here because this was one of the most remote, and sparsely populated, parts of Britain, protected by the Lake District Hills from bombers.

After the war the government no longer needed the munitions factories. They laid off tens of thousands, and tried to generate industry in the 1920s by selling the custom-made factories and housing. There was interest from an entrepreneur who thought growing sugar beet might work but it failed on this wet, northern, mediocre soil. No-one bought the housing. So the government dismantled the facility. Like the Romans before them, they divided it into regular strips, and settled demobilised soldiers on the land.

Then the Second World War came, and the army returned, making the depots part of a military infrastructure which sprawled across the North from the army training area at Otterburn to the airfields at Carlisle and Silloth. When my father first saw Longtown as a Black Watch soldier in 1943, five thousand infantry were camped along the South road, sleeping in tents or under trucks. After the war, Iraqi pilots came to train near Walton. The Blue Streak missile site was developed beyond Brampton. The 14 MU site became the Kingmoor industrial park. Eastriggs, contaminated by specialist ammunition, was abandoned, and left empty, protected by guards.

In the end, there was just Longtown. The last few hundred acres out of the twelve mile site, the last few hundred workers out of 30,000. Six years ago, ‘Project Hadrian’ announced that 130 million pounds was needed to upgrade the site, and that it, therefore, needed to be closed. So much civil service time had been invested in strategic plans, and redundancy schemes, that it seemed almost inconceivable that it could be saved.

But they underestimated men like Neil Scott. Neil is the Trade Unions representative at Longtown. Every time the MoD produced another strategic plan, he went through every single document, questioning every figure. He pointed out that they had underestimated the transport costs and risks of moving munitions to Warwickshire. He emphasised the challenges that would follow if Scotland went independent. He chased me, almost weekly, for updates, to see what arguments I was putting to Ministers. He drove down from Longtown to my surgeries in different towns across Cumbria, he came to Parliament. He showed me twice in detail around every ammunition shed. He persuaded me to invite the Defence Minister to visit the site last year. He encouraged us – myself, John Stevenson, and David Mundell – until we took the argument all the way to Number 10.

It was a tough fight – the army is shrinking, overseas operations are reducing, and the whole drive was to fall back on Warwickshire. But we have managed to keep the site open, save two hundred jobs, and get another million pounds of investment out of the MoD.  It is unfair to pick out a name but I feel we owe a real debt of gratitude to the workers at Longtown, and to Neil.


Rory –  who represents the constituency with the highest percentage of upland farmland in England –  has in the latest of a series of articles in support of Cumbria’s small upland farms, called on environmentalists to recognise the complexity of the challenges small hill farmers face in balancing environmental stewardship, and the practices of maintaining  grazing flocks. His article follows a recent disagreement with columnist and ‘re-wilding’ enthusiast George Monbiot, and a meeting last week at Haweswater with the RSPB to look at the charity’s work in conservation and its impact on local Lakeland farmers, which have radically reduced in the last fifty years.

In an article which highlights concerns about the narrow focus of upland farming policy and about the diminishing of flock sizes, the degradation of pasture-land and the loss of traditional shepherding skills, he calls for greater emphasis on the cultural and societal benefits that upland farms bring to the landscape, and encourages a move away from a view which only considers their financial or biological value. He argues for the need to recognise small upland farms as an inherent part of our national identity, and of intrinsic value to the future of Britain. The article, printed on the influential Green Alliance blog, prompted a reply from the Lake District National Park Authority’s chief executive, Richard Leafe, who shares Rory Stewart’s concerns for the future of small farms whilst stressing his belief in the need to reward farmers for their role as environmental stewards.

Responding, Rory said: “I was pleased to see Richard keep this issue at the forefront of public debate. I would not necessarily agree with him on the extent to which more emphasis on biodiversity and carbon capture are the answer to upland farmers’ problems. From what I have seen, environmental policies can often work against small farms, reducing the number of sheep on the fells, and making it increasingly difficult for sheep farmers to be sheep farmers.

Where I think we do agree though, is on the need for a stronger debate around the real value of these farms, and why must do all we can to protect them. I worry that the upland farmer’s views do not feature prominently enough in the boardroom on a regular basis. Both the RSPB and United Utilities have recently talked me through some of the fantastic projects they have set up in the Haweswater area to understand the complexity of the challenges our upland farmers face. Too often though, these initiatives are the exception, or simply isolated examples of good practice. Without a broader, more all-encompassing strategy in place, we still risk seeing our small farms disappear.”

Rory and Richard’s articles can be found in full at


Rory has welcomed the news that Penrith station has been nominated for funding under the Department for Transport’s ‘Access for All’ scheme, after a three-year lobbying campaign of the Government, Network Rail and Virgin Trains to take action over access concerns at the station.

The funding bid – if successful – would see Penrith’s northbound platform upgraded to allow improved access for disabled passengers, who currently have no option but to be guided across a dangerous and outdated barrow crossing.

Rory instigated a debate on disabled access at stations in Parliament earlier this year in July, during which he praised the record of recent Governments in supporting those with disabilities, but said that transport remains the last great challenge in the campaign for disabled rights. He argued that a new lift at Penrith could be “not just an article of public convenience, but a symbol of British civilisation.”

Penrith station receives up to fourteen booked requests for disabled assistance daily, and many more unbooked requests but it remains the only station on the West Coast Mainline which is not accessible for wheelchair users. Rory’s campaign received the backing of Virgin Trains, the franchise operator, as well as the Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin who visited the station in August at Rory’s invitation and acknowledged the need for urgent improvements to be made.

Network Rail has submitted its nominations to the Department for Transport and a decision will be made on the allocation of funds by April.

Rory said: “This is fantastic news, although we are not there quite yet. The Department must review all bids and assess them, but I am hopeful that we might soon see these majorly overdue improvements at Penrith.

Disabled access matters enormously. The number of disabled people using trains has risen by 58% over the last five years, that’s 72 million rail journeys by disabled people in 2012 alone.

But this is also important for the elderly, those with push chairs and even tourists, who have to negotiate 45 steps with a 35kg suitcase.

I have been extremely pleased by the response to the campaign and this news is a huge step forward in making Penrith station a facility that can be used safely and conveniently by everyone.

Please do continue to let me know of your personal experiences of Penrith station, in order that I can continue to lobby the Department.”


Rory was invited to see the concerns held by local businesses and residents on the safety and usability of Junction 45 from the seat of a Wm Armstrong lorry. On a tour that approached the junction from every road, he saw first hand the problems that have been caused by the closing of a northbound and southbound slip road on the junction. Rory has agreed to again contact the Highways Agency to ensure representatives are fully aware of local concerns, and has asked them to meet with the local community to discuss any potential solutions.

Rory said:

“The problems on Junction 45 are something that have been on-going now for a number of years. Its proximity to the Scottish border have meant it has not always been obvious who is responsible for any improvements, and I have worked closely with David Mundell MP to try to find a solution. ”

“In such a tough economic climate, clearly any costly road improvement projects are going to be difficult to fund. In this instance however, we would seem to have a solution that would cost very little to implement, by reopening the currently closed slip roads. I am as keen as Wm Armstrong to see the Highways Agency come up to the area to again discuss the issues on Junction 45, and I am sure we can find a sensible solution to this problem.”


Rory spoke to Radio 4’s ‘Analysis’ about his experiences setting up Turquoise Mountain in Afghanistan in a programme looking at the increased relationship between NGOs and governments, both as clients and as donors.

While still available on the BBC iplayer it can be heard here.


Rory has called on Government to recognise the significantly higher costs faced by local authorities in rural areas in a backbench debate in Parliament.  Speaking in the chamber yesterday, Rory highlighted the fragility of rural communities who face significant under-funding in health, education and other essential services, and warned of the “perfect storm” of a situation whereby the demographics of an ageing population and communities struggling with issues of fuel poverty and unaffordable housing, will conflate to create a seriously challenging situation for Cumbria.

Figures released by the Rural Services Network show that on average, rural residents pay council tax which is £75 higher per head of population, yet receive substantially less support for service provision. Current proposals will see residents receiving approximately 65% of the grant given to urban dwellers, and for significantly rural areas – like Eden – authorities will face cuts of close to 5% as opposed to an average cut of 2% to urban councils. This equates to a reduction in spending power of 2.10% for authorities in rural areas. As their service levels, out of necessity, start at a thinner level and are more expensive to run, it is feared the impact of current proposals will have a severely detrimental impact on rural communities.

He drew attention to some sobering figures. Cumbria’s Clinical Commissioning Group is under threat of a 10% cut to its budget of £62 million pounds; its Fire Service is already in receipt of one of the lowest allocated budgets in the country; and the National School Funding Formula continues to fail to recognise factors of sparsity, with the ‘sparsity factor’ determined on proximity to school, rather than distance by road.
Speaking in the House of Commons chamber, Rory said:

“It’s very easy to feel that the debate between rural and urban is somehow a debate which is trivial or unjustified and indeed those of us on this side of the House who have been fighting this now for nearly three years often find ourselves facing scepticism from officials and Ministers. There is an implication that what rural areas are asking for, which is a quarter of a percent of funding year by year is either based on faulty statistics or is somehow going to have no impact. It is that which I wish to challenge.

It feels perhaps from London as though the request we are making is very small. It feels like the tiny tip of a lever. But when the lever is 359 miles long and the fulcrum is right here in Westminster, that quarter of a percent makes and enormous amount of difference.  And it makes and enormous amount of difference because rural areas are in a very unusually fragile position in this country – more so than almost any country in the world. Britain was of course the first country to industrialise – the first country to develop a truly urban population. We had one sixth of the entire population of Britain living in London in the mid 18th Century. As a result, we don’t have vigorous rich rural communities with local democracies and huge local populations.

This quarter of a percent matters because rural areas are precious. They are precious, they are fragile, and they have never been so fragile. They are being depopulated – we can walk across the English-Scottish borders where we see houses abandoned and where we can see parishes which in 1850 had 2500 people which are now down to 300. In those valleys are the very last traces of our history and very last traces of our landscape which we do not, in this house, wish to turn into a wilderness. So that sounds like a very grand statement to come down to a quarter of one percent.

It sounds perhaps petty to say that just because rural areas pay more in council tax, receive less in services and earn less they should not be making this small demand. But it is a demand that is very consistent – consistent with the traditions of this party, with the traditions of this house with the traditions of this country. What I believe we all share in this house is a sense that rural areas should not be seen as marginal victims, just because 90% of the population live in cities. We should not patronise these areas. Look at Eden district council which is the most sparsely populated council containing the most sparsely populated parish in the whole of England. When you see the kind of struggles that Gordon Nicholson, the wonderful leader of the council, or Kevin Beaty, you see that what they are struggling with is not simply being victims but the possibility of being the future of this country. Somewhere we can be proud of. Somewhere the Minister and everyone in this room can visit. Somewhere where 9 million tourists a year come to see living Britain where they wish to see not a wilderness but a rich community of houses and schools and living people and for that quarter of a percent, I would ask the Minister please to be generous.”