MP raises local issues in House of Commons
Neil Parish takes the opportunity of the Summer Adjournment debate to raise local issues of concern specifically flood prevention and the impact on dairy farming of supermarkets driving down the price of milk.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this pre-recess debate. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod): we wish team GB the greatest success in the world. May I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who mentioned the Guinness Book of Records, that he should appear in it for the amount of stuff he can get into a five-minute speech about his constituency and events all across the world? He most certainly should be given such an award.
To be serious, on 7 July, 4½ inches of rain fell in one day on part of my constituency—Axminster, Seaton and Uplyme. There was a great deal of flooding in Axminster, particularly in Willhayes park, where many bungalows were flooded. Several elderly residents were confined to their beds and literally had to be rescued while the water was rising in those bungalows. I have toured the area this last week with the mayor of Axminster, Councillor Andrew Moulding, who has set up a local fund to help residents. It is great to see how the local community has pulled together in Axminster; I was amazed at how stoic the residents whom I went to see were, considering that their houses had been flooded. Anyone who has been into houses that have been flooded will be aware of the smell and contamination that people have to go through.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): My hon. Friend is touching on an important point about the flooding that has affected many of us in the south-west. Will he join me in congratulating the Environment Agency on its sterling work, particularly in keeping residents fully informed of what was happening, including Members of Parliament?
Neil Parish: My hon. Friend must be a mind reader, because I was just about to mention the fact that the Environment Agency has been so good, especially in warning people and getting the warnings through early so that people could take action, where possible, to secure their properties with sandbags. A large flood happened in Axminster where there was a blockage across a railway under a large culvert. The water backed up and there was immediately a huge amount of flooding. In the long run, we need to not only get good flood warnings in place, but make sure that the culverts are clear and the rivers properly dredged so that we can get rid of the water when it comes.
I accept that when 4½ inches of rainfall comes down in less than 24 hours, it is very difficult to handle, but we have to realise that the drainage channels and those rivers are all there for a purpose. That purpose is to drain. Yes, they are very pretty when the water level is kept high and they are allowed to silt up. Indeed, it all looks lovely until the rain starts to come down and we cannot drain the water away fast enough. I hope that Ministers and the Environment Agency will think seriously about that.
We also experienced floods in Uplyme. Down by the village hall, culverts were blocked and, again, there was a great deal of flooding. Fewer properties were involved, but one was badly flooded when a stream came down from the hill. Again the rocks came out and blocked the pipe, and water cascaded through the building. As I have said, it is not possible to solve all the problems, but I think that we need proper drainage channels with proper grilles.
Because I do not possess the ability of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West to raise numerous matters during a short speech and am capable of raising only two or three, I shall now confine myself to raising the serious issue of the price of milk and the problems faced by dairy farmers in my constituency. The constituency contains a great deal of grassland, much of which is dairy farming land in the Blackdown hills and on the edge of Exmoor. The dairy farmers are not receiving the cost of production, and we need to do something about it, because they are experiencing a real problem. When 2,500 dairy farmers from all over the country come to a meeting in London—at Methodist Central Hall—the strength of feeling is clear. We cannot stand by while supermarkets drive the price of milk down by using it as a loss leader, as a result of which processors and farmers are squeezed.
Members have asked what future young dairy farmers have. I think that they have a good future, but we must ensure that there are more co-operatives. Farmers must come together if they are to have more power in the marketplace. We must also think about future markets. The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), has told us that when he went to China he saw many milk products from France, Germany and the Netherlands, but none from Britain. I think that when we have an expanding market in China, it is essential for us to send our milk and milk products over there.
If we do not export enough dairy products and create a demand throughout the country, and if too much liquid milk is flooding the market, it is very difficult to keep the price up for farmers. Farmers in my constituency need a future. They spend a great deal of money themselves throughout the community, and they need to be supported. I hope that the Minister will do something about that, and will establish contracts so that farmers can make a decent living.