Neil Parish MP uses the Christmas Adjournment Debate to raise a variety of constituency issues including upgrading the A303, rural broadband and dairy farmers.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) for securing the debate. He is always the expert in delivering so many constituency cases and I congratulate him on that. I want to cover a number of constituency cases—perhaps not as expertly as my hon. Friend, but I will do my very best.
First, I very much welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Transport on the £2 billion to deal with the bottleneck on the A30/A303, which goes through my constituency.
Broadband in rural areas is extremely necessary. I have worked with all Members for Devon and Somerset from both sides of the House to secure funding for rural broadband. Devon and Somerset county councils have put money in, along with Broadband Delivery UK, to deliver rural broadband across the two counties. The very nature of the contract let to BDUK states clearly that broadband should get to the hardest-hit areas. Of course, what happens when the contract starts is that BDUK picks the easiest cherries on the tree and gets to the areas that are not quite so hard to hit. However, there are delays and delays in bringing rural broadband to areas around the Blackdowns, such as Upottery, Smeatharpe and over on the other side towards Seaton and Rousdon. We even had the chief executive of BDUK, in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, saying that it could be 2020 before some of those villages are reached. BDUK has come out with wonderful statistics stating that there is 95% broadband coverage across the country. The only problem is that nearly 95% of parts of my constituency do not have broadband. I suggested to the BDUK chief executive that it would not be wise for him to make that statement in some of my rural villages, because 95% of the people there do not have broadband.
BDUK has begun, very late in the day, to look at alternatives to the large junction boxes or cabinets with fibre-optic cables. There are ways to introduce smaller cabinets on telegraph poles and the like. It is now beginning to pilot those schemes, but it is time for it to up its game and get broadband out to those hard-hit rural areas. I am looking forward. I welcome the support, with Government, council and public money, but it is time that broadband was delivered. I would love the Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) to deal with this, because pressure needs to be put on BDUK on delivery.
In my constituency, there is a group of volunteers called the Devon Freewheelers who deliver blood and body parts for transplant to hospitals. They have police-type bikes, are fully trained and deliver across the county of Devon, into Cornwall and beyond. The service they provide is run entirely through charity. No help has been given to it by the NHS or the local NHS trust, even though it now has a contract with the NHS in Devon for deliveries. It is time that we looked across our Departments in Government to see if we can find ways to support these great people, who have put in a huge amount of effort. One can imagine the tremendous amount of money it would cost if the NHS in Devon, Cornwall and beyond had to pay for the service.
My constituent John Panvert of Steart Farm in Stoodleigh, Tiverton, bought a farm with a commercial stables with a large gallop area, many stables and an indoor horse-walking area. When he bought the property, business rates were being paid on it. He did not challenge immediately the fact that he carried on paying business rates, even though he now uses the stables domestically, so he now has a huge amount of business rates to pay. I have been to the property twice and seen that three stables are used for his wife’s horses, but for no other purpose. Even though we have challenged the valuation office about that, it is about to hire a barrister and take him to court to get him to pay the business rates. I think that is an abuse of power by those in authority.
My last point is about the huge problems facing dairy farmers in my constituency and across the country. The price of milk is falling to 24p and below, but the cost of production is at least 30p. Farmers need support. I urge the Government, when procuring milk and other dairy products, to look for British product. I would also like the Government to look at how we promote milk. I am a great believer—I declare an interest as a former dairy farmer—in milk being a wholesome product that is very good for us. Over the years it has been downgraded, with people always talking about the fat it contains, but not the protein and all the other good constituents. We should go out and promote milk, using the resources of Dairy UK and others. The Government must stand up for a great farming industry that is not only looking after and feeding people, but delivering the great countryside that we all love to visit.
Finally, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and all in the House for looking after us so well and wish everyone a thoroughly happy Christmas.
Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 18 December 2014, c1624)