Neil Parish raises local concerns in Christmas adjournment debate

Speaking in the Christmas adjournment debate, Neil Parish highlights areas of local concern and calls for more involvement of local communities and farmers in the management of our rivers and waterways, the introduction of a vaccine to combat the Schmallenberg virus and he highlights the great work of local charity Dogs Helping Kids.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke) and I am particularly interested in the port of Dover becoming a people’s port. Interestingly, until 1528 we actually had the whole town of Calais, so it would have been a terrible shame to have sold off Dover.I wish to discuss the situation in my constituency. Ever since the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs talked in the spring about a drought we have had nothing but rain. We have had a series of floods throughout my constituency, and I want to pay tribute to all the people who have gone out to try to protect their homes. The communities have pulled together extremely well. We have had flooding in Bampton, which has caused a great deal of problems, and in Tiverton, where the Grand Western canal burst its banks. Of course it will cost a huge amount of money to put the canal right. I ask anyone who wants to support the Grand Western canal to do so, because it a great asset to not only Tiverton but the country.We have also had huge problems with flooding throughout the Axe valley, particularly in Axminster. There is another high flood alert today on the River Axe and we have had a lot of flooding through there. There have been problems with blocked culverts and blocks under the railway, and they need to be sorted out for the future. There has also been flooding in Uplyme and Seaton.In the village of Feniton, we have had a real problem with a great deal of flooding. The village is like a funnel, and the water comes right down to the bottom of the village and floods several bungalows at the bottom because it cannot get underneath the railway line. Recently, an inspector’s decision has allowed more houses in Feniton on appeal with no money to contribute towards a flood prevention scheme. It seems to be absolute madness to add to the village before we have got the water under the railway line and away. We need to consider these questions very seriously.When the rain finally stops and we can look back on what has happened, we need to consider, despite the fact that the Environment Agency has worked well in providing flood warnings, how we manage our rivers and waterways and ensure that they are properly dredged. It is perhaps not feasible in this day and age to have staff from the Environment Agency who can go around, look at the sluices and reduce the water levels, but I do not see why an honorarium cannot be paid to individuals—farmers, perhaps, or local residents—who can reduce the water levels much more quickly because they are on the spot and can deal with the problem at that moment. We must learn the lessons from what has gone on.My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) talked about the agricultural problems. Not only did we face foot and mouth disease in 2001, but we have seen the problems with TB, the weather and the high price of feed, silage and cereals. We also have a problem with Schmallenberg again, which is a disease that affects new-born lambs and calves. Even with the early lambing flocks, some 30% to 40% of lambs are being born dead. I hope that that is just happening at the start of lambing and that the situation will improve, but we have a vaccine that is being looked at and validated and I urge the Government to put it in place. It will not help with this year’s lambs, or with calves, but it will help in the future. We cannot just take it for granted that the disease will go away. It is spread by midges and last year it affected only a few sheep and cattle, but this year it has had a big effect, so we need to deal with it.I want to raise a very interesting issue about dogs going into schools. I recently visited a charity called Dogs Helping Kids. It is run by a lady called Tracey Berridge, who trains the dogs for up to 18 months or even two years so that they can go into schools. She has taught the dogs to read. I have not gone completely mad, Mr Deputy Speaker—the dogs probably do not actually read—but I have seen the process demonstrated. The dog is shown a sign saying “Sit”, and because it is a short word the dog sits. It is then shown a sign saying “Lie down”, and because it is slightly longer the dog lies down. Every time the dog is shown a sign, it does what it says.I am not joking—hon. Members can imagine how impressed the children are when they see the dog reading, and then sitting and lying down and so on. The children are then very keen to read more. The dog sits with the child and there is a person with them—it is not the dog talking to the child, because, as I said, I have not gone completely mad—who explains to the children more about reading. Those who find difficulty in reading react very well to the dog. In many schools children who were playing truant or had many problems at home and did not want to come to school now want to come to school because the dogs are there.There is a serious point here. A charity such as Dogs Helping Kids is a good one to support. I have always been a great lover of dogs, as are many people in this country. Dogs can be therapeutic and useful in schools. The charity run by Tracey Berridge trains the dogs properly before they go into schools. It is no good just taking any dog into a school. If it hurt a child, that would cause major problems. We should encourage dogs going into schools, possibly as part of the curriculum, so that children learn that a relationship with a pet can be good for them. I recommend that to the House.| Hansard