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Tim Farron's Recent Appearances in Parliament

Tim Farron speaking on unaccompanied refugees (Liberal Democrat Newswire)Content supplied and updated by theyworkforyou.com

  • Jan 18, 2022:
    • Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] | Commons debates

      The hon. Gentleman outlines what he thinks are threats to farmers, but I do not agree that the Bill is a threat to British farmers. However, he alluded to the transition from basic payments to ELMS being a threat, and in that case I think he is right. Would he recommend that the Secretary of State pegs basic payments at their current level and keeps them there until ELMS is available for every farmer?

    • Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] | Commons debates

      Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

    • Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] | Commons debates

      I thank the hon. Member for his intervention. He will recognise, particularly having been in Australia, the nature of that husbandry. In Cumbria, the welfare of livestock is tended to week in, week out. As many of my constituents who have farmed in Australia have informed me directly, the first time that someone in Australia knows that one of their animals might be ill is when they find its sun-bleached bones on the plains the following season. That is a different form of farming. Australians are not instinctively cruel people; that is not the point I am making-[Interruption.] I am sure that Members on both sides of the House understand that. I am saying, however, that lower standards are cheaper, including standards that do not require mandatory closed circuit television coverage in abattoirs, which we have here, or the restrictions that we have here on the transportation of live animals.

      Given that we know that poorer welfare standards are cheaper, these trade deals-particularly the one with Australia-offer a financial and economic market advantage to countries with poorer standards than ours that export to us. That not only undermines the morality of the UK's commitment to high animal welfare, but massively undermines our farmers. Every farmer in Cumbria and the rest of the United Kingdom suffers because the UK Government have chosen to do a deal with a country that we have much in common with, but that does not acknowledge the animal welfare issues there. That is why the Animal Sentience Committee and the recognition of sentience in the Bill, which I support, will not have an effect on all the animals affected by decisions taken in this place. This is an abuse of an opportunity-a missed opportunity-and a waste of our sovereignty, but the Bill is good in so far as it goes, so I welcome it and will vote for it.

      I do criticise those Members-not my neighbour, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, but some of his colleagues-who have been critical of the Bill not because it does not go far enough, but because it goes as far as it does. They are wrong in that. People have said that the Bill is a threat to farming, but it is no such thing. I speak to farmers throughout my communities and further afield, and they welcome the Bill. They are committed to animal welfare-it is in their DNA.

      We should recognise, however, the threat to farmers from trade deals, and from the Government's dogged insistence on phasing out the basic payment scheme before the arrival of the new environmental land management scheme. Just last month, farmers lost between 5% and 25% of their basic payment, and there is no sign, even slightly over the horizon, of anything to replace it. That will put small British family farms out of business, and there will be a knock-on effect on animal welfare, because part of the reason for our animal welfare culture and why our standards are as high as they are in this country is that they are based on the model and example of the British family farm.

      Although I welcome and will support the Bill, and think that there is much to be said for it, I want to rush through some areas where things need to be improved. First, I hope that the fact that the duty to enforce recognition of animal sentience falls on the committee and not primarily the Secretary of State will be changed during the passage of the Bill. That is not right; it gives less responsibility and power to the Secretary of State.

      I am also very concerned that clause 3 requires the Secretary of State only to lodge before Parliament a response to reports from the Animal Sentience Committee. That could be a two-line dismissal, and then what would we do? I guess the Opposition could call an Opposition day debate, and we could ask questions at Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, but as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, the opportunities for scrutiny are minimised. The task of initiating these things is all put on Opposition Members or Government Back Benchers. Set pieces will not be a part of the process, and it would be entirely possible for the Secretary of State effectively to dismiss any report pretty perfunctorily.

      As has been said by a number of colleagues from across the House, we should not treat this matter purely in the negative, although unfortunately at the moment the Bill does that. If we are so proud of our heritage and our high animal welfare standards, why is the committee and its work not about promoting good practice around the country, and in every aspect of our life in so far as it impacts animals, as well as about trying to stamp out bad practice? Again, that feels like a missed opportunity to have gone further and done better. As I have strongly implied, the Animal Sentience Committee should have the power to comment on trade deals. My fear is that, on those matters, it could end up-a bit like the Trade and Agriculture Commission-being a watchdog that may bark occasionally but does not have very much bite. The Government are certainly under no compulsion or obligation to take any notice of it whatsoever.

      Many animal welfare charities have expressed concerns to me about the lack of resource for the Animal Sentience Committee. I acknowledge that point, as it goes with our concern about the absence of parliamentary scrutiny and the relegation of these serious issues to a body that is one place removed from this place. The committee chair will be "hired", for want of a better word, for 20 days a year, and members of the committee for 15. There is no dedicated secretariat-I understand that will be provided by DEFRA staff-and no obvious independent budget. All that adds up to just about ticking the box, and just about copying what the EU did, but without anybody watching over our shoulder. Meanwhile, we are not doing anything. We are meant to be a global trading nation whose footprint and impact is felt around the world. What a missed opportunity to make that impact and do something good when it comes to animal welfare. So this is not three cheers; it is perhaps two, or more likely one, but it is better than nothing, and I will vote for the Bill.

    • Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords] | Commons debates

      It is an honour to follow my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson). He made a comprehensive speech, and, not for the first time, I agreed with the colossal majority of what he said. It is also a huge honour to follow the new hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French), who spoke earlier. I congratulate him on an excellent maiden speech-I know it is customary for us to say that, but it genuinely was an excellent maiden speech. He represents a beautiful part of the country, which he described very well. I had no idea that Kate Bush owed something to his constituency, but that is massively in its favour from my perspective.

      The hon. Gentleman also spoke fondly about his predecessor, the late James Brokenshire, who entered the House on the same day as me, and of whom I was always fond. People speak fondly of James because of the way he conducted himself. It is sometimes very easy to say, "I like X"-a member of another party-"because we agree on certain issues", but it was not that I considered James to be a particularly liberal Tory, although he may have been. That was not the point; it was how he conducted himself in this place, in meetings, and in all that he did. He showed grace and decency, he treated people as he found them, he was utterly honourable and trustworthy, and he was a very competent Minister. We miss him hugely.

      We also welcome the hon. Gentleman massively, and I look forward to hearing many more speeches from him. He spoke today with great knowledge of the subject of the debate and with great insight, and, for what it is worth, I agreed with what he said. I think we may have reached a stage at which the number of Conservative Members who have spoken in favour of the Bill matches the number who have spoken against it, which is good to know .

      I am broadly in favour of the Bill, because I think that how we treat animals is a moral indicator of how we are as a culture and as a society. It is a measure of our own humanity, so it is right that we as a country are proud of being a nation of animal lovers. Often the way to get any group of people to behave well is to remind them of how good they are, so it is important that we cling to this self-definition; but it is also important that our legislation follows that, so we will of course support the Bill's Second Reading.

      As a member of the European Union, this country, through article 13 of the Lisbon treaty, enshrined the acknowledgement of animal sentience in legislation. I welcome the fact that-following an unnecessary delay that has been mentioned by a number of Members on both sides of the House-we are now closing that gap. However, I think that the Bill represents a missed opportunity. Members do not need me to remind them of my views on whether it was wise to leave the European Union, but in the case of a number of aspects of our departure, we have opportunities to go one better than how the EU left us. In respect of the legislation at least, we have ensured that in theory we will now be no worse than we were in the EU. In practice, though, as several Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, if we sign trade deals with countries whose animal welfare standards are poorer than ours, we will put ourselves into a position where we are worse than we were before.

      The most recent example is our trade deal with Australia. It is important to recognise that the Animal Sentience Committee will have no powers, as far as we can tell, to ensure that those deals-and further deals in the future-do not undermine animal welfare. It is not just a question of the treatment of animals and recognition of their sentience within the borders of this country; it is also a question of how countries that we deal with, in our name, treat those animals. If sovereignty means anything, it means our ability to affect other countries in so far as they relate to us; in the trade deal with Australia, we have failed to do that. This is true on three counts. When it comes to husbandry, I do not need to explain much about how the geography and the nature of farming in Australia differ from ours in the United Kingdom. The vast plains and the ranch-style farming in Australia mean that, to a large degree, there is no husbandry there.

    • Care Homes: Cumbria | Department of Health and Social Care | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how much funding from the National Insurance increase will be allocated to care home provision in Cumbria.

    • Covid-19 Vaccination Sites | Health and Social Care | Commons debates

      Undoubtedly, additional vaccine sites in rural communities will increase vaccine uptake, which is vital. However, does the Minister agree that, for NHS staff, counselling and one-to-one conversations are right and far more effective than the Government's current plan potentially to sack the 5% of hospital staff in the Morecambe Bay region and indeed across the country who have not been vaccinated? That would cause a serious capacity problem in the NHS.

  • Jan 12, 2022:
    • Access to Radiotherapy - [Philip Davies in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      The Minister is being very kind and I really appreciate it. I have two quick points that I do not think she has mentioned. First, will she take up the request from myself and the hon. Member for Easington for a meeting with the APPG for radiotherapy? We would love to meet her.

      Secondly, I do not think she referred to the tariff situation. A lot of the issue is that we need more money. We want the Minister to accept-it is not just her fault; it is the fault of every party in this place, over decades-that we are behind comparable countries and we need to strengthen radiotherapy. The reality is that there are lots of state-of-the-art machines out there, in trusts up and down the country, that are not being used because the tariff is stupid. It incentivises trusts to do second-division radiotherapy, if I can put it that way, because more visits equal more cash, rather than targeted and specific radiotherapy-stereotactic, as she mentioned, for many cancers-because the tariff rewards number of visits, not precision or effectiveness of treatment. Would she look at that? It is free.

    • Access to Radiotherapy - [Philip Davies in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      Will the Minister give way?

    • Access to Radiotherapy - [Philip Davies in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      I want to answer a point that the Minister made earlier. Obviously, during the pandemic, radiotherapy has been used as substitutionary treatment for people who would otherwise have had chemotherapy or surgery, because it is a covid-secure treatment. But my main point is with regard to what the Minister just said about satellites. Has she looked at the data and evidence from those satellite centres that have been opened in the last few years?

      For instance, at Hereford, we saw a doubling of the number of patients being treated at that new satellite centre. Why? Well, there was an assumption that the parent centre people, from that postcode, were simply transferred to Hereford. No, it turned out that a lot more people, who would not travel or who were not referred because of the travelling distance for treatment at the original place, were then referred for treatment and therefore had a longer life expectancy because of the satellite centre. With more networking capability, it is of course possible now to treat in specialist ways, with the best people, remotely and through these satellite centres. The Christie has just opened its third satellite, so surely, for more rural communities such as mine, and also in east Lancashire, the time has come to ensure that no one is left behind.

    • Access to Radiotherapy - [Philip Davies in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I pay tribute to my friend, the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris), for securing this debate and for an excellent speech, which contained some points that I make no apology for repeating because this issue matters hugely.

      I lost my mum at the age of just 54. Eighteen years on, of course I still miss her massively; I miss especially the grandmother she would have been. Few issues that we deal with in this place are more personal than cancer. Half of us will have the disease at some point in our lives. Cancer touches absolutely every family.

      The good news is that, increasingly, cancer is a disease that need not be a death sentence, partly because of the advances in radiotherapy. Radiotherapy kills cancer cells through radiation targeted at a tumour. It is becoming more and more precise, and is able to cure cancers that would otherwise be untreatable, with fewer side effects, as the hon. Member for Easington set out.

      Just over 50% of people with cancer should expect to receive radiotherapy, yet, as has been said, Cancer Research UK estimates that only 27% of cancer patients in the UK actually receive it. The clue to why that is is that the UK spends only about 5% of the cancer budget on radiotherapy. The equivalent average spend of similar countries in Europe, Australia and so on is about 11%. The total budget for radiotherapy each year is £383 million; compare that to the £2 billion spent on cancer drugs every year, even though radiotherapy is eight times more likely to be curative than chemotherapy.

      That historic underinvestment-the responsibility of lots of Governments of all colours-is undoubtedly a reason why the UK has some of the worst cancer survival rates in Europe. Lives are being lost needlessly because the UK is so painfully slow at keeping up with and grasping the opportunities that radiotherapy provides. That is why we set up the all-party parliamentary group for radiotherapy, which I am privileged to chair. I send huge thanks to Members from all parties, especially the hon. Member for Easington, to leading clinicians across the country and to the charity Radiotherapy UK, which is led by the rightly much esteemed Professor Pat Price, who has already been mentioned.

      We set up the APPG in spring 2018. We booked a room in 1 Parliament Street. A handful of MPs turned up, but 50 or 60 of the leading oncologists in the country turned up and crammed into the room-they would not be allowed in today because of covid restrictions. Why had those people left their massively important jobs for the day, just to come to London for that meeting? It struck me then that it was because there is no radiotherapy lobby. I am not in any way going to criticise pharmaceutical companies, but we know that they are large and they have large coffers. We all get letters most weeks from constituents asking for this drug or that drug to be commissioned, and very often that is right. There is no such lobby for radiotherapy.

      Lobbying, in its purest and most fair form, is about being in the room with the people who make the decisions. Radiotherapy has not had someone in the room with the people who make decisions. That is the best I can come up with as an excuse for why this Government and previous Governments, including the one I was part of, have not taken radiotherapy anything like as seriously as it should be taken, why we are investing such a paltry amount in radiotherapy, and why we are so far behind comparable countries.

      At the local level, a bad situation is made worse because access to radiotherapy is simply not fair or equal. In south Cumbria, cancer patients have to travel each day all the way to Preston to our nearest radiotherapy centre. The Rosemere unit at Preston is excellent, but dangerously distant. The National Radiotherapy Advisory Group stated that it is bad practice for patients to have to travel for more than 45 minutes for treatment, yet not a single person in my huge constituency reliably lives within 45 minutes of radiotherapy.

      Over the years, I have had the privilege of driving constituents to Preston for their treatment. I have seen how people from Kendal, Windermere, Grasmere, Grange, Coniston, Sedbergh and other communities have to make round trips of between two and four hours every day for weeks on end. I have seen their exhaustion and the impact on their health. I have seen people whose lives would have been longer if they had had radiotherapy turn it down, because they physically could not cope with the travelling. I have seen clinicians who have chosen not to refer people for radiotherapy, understandably but sadly, because they knew that their patient's condition would be made worse by those long, gruelling journeys. In Cumbria, because NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care will not act, those longer journeys mean shorter lives.

      For 13 years, we have run a campaign collectively in Westmorland, calling relentlessly for a radiotherapy satellite unit to be placed at Westmorland General Hospital. We also campaigned to bring chemotherapy to Kendal and were successful in that fight. I am proud of everyone who supported our radiotherapy campaign, but we have submitted petitions with more than 10,000 signatures; I have had numerous Westminster Hall debates; I have met countless Ministers from all three parties that have been in government during my time in Parliament; we have marched for the hospital in our thousands; a team walked from Preston to Kendal just to make the point; 1,000 people wrote detailed, personal, heartbreaking stories to explain why we need the unit in Kendal; and we have demonstrated that there is clearly enough demand for at least one linear accelerator at Kendal, drawing patients from the south lakes, Furness and the western dales. With an ageing population in our community, there is also clearly a growing need.

      We have the space at the hospital, designs have been done, the bid has been written and rewritten, and the inaction of managers in NHS England and Ministers in the Department of Health is inexcusable. It is a reminder of why rural communities feel so taken for granted and ignored by the Government and by NHS bosses nationally and regionally. Talk of levelling up the north is meaningless when Ministers appear not to realise that there is 100 miles of England north of Preston until the next nearest cancer centre.

      Networked satellite radiotherapy units have been a huge success elsewhere in the country and, once they open, have been shown to increase the number of people able to take up that life-saving treatment. Satellites save more lives. Today, I ask the Minister to instruct NHS England to work with our local trusts in Cumbria and Lancashire finally to deliver our long-awaited satellite radiotherapy unit at Kendal. Our community will listen carefully to her response.

      Radiotherapy, as the hon. Member for Easington said, provides the Government and the NHS with their best way through the cancer backlog. Owing to the pandemic, 740,000 cancer referrals have been missed. Therefore, at least 60,000 people are out there with cancer, but undiagnosed. That is terrifying. There is also an enormous backlog for treatment, with people dying as a result. In the Morecambe bay area, about half of cancer patients are having to wait for more than the scheduled 62-day limit to get their first treatment. As the Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), rightly said, it would take the NHS working at 120% of its existing capacity for two solid years just to get back to where we were in March 2020. The need for an urgent and ambitious boost to cancer care is therefore obvious, but we see next to nothing specific from the Government.

      Money was pledged for diagnostic hubs, but just on Monday this week, I discovered that in South Lakeland we will not see ours until next year. Where is the urgency? The Government and the NHS have done so well-commendably-on the vaccine roll-out. Why will they not treat cancer and the cancer backlog in the same way, with a ring-fenced and targeted programme to catch up with cancer?

      Radiotherapy is covid-secure and non-invasive, carries no infection risk, does not need intensive therapy unit beds or precious operating theatre time, does not compromise one's immunity, is curative, palliative and, per capita, incredibly inexpensive. We could massively increase capacity very quickly. It has been the stand-out treatment in covid, often substituting for surgery, and it is the obvious first choice for getting through the backlog of cancer cases.

      As an all-party group, we first wrote to the Secretary of State on 1 April 2020 to highlight the key role that radiotherapy needed to play to tackle the covid-induced cancer backlog. Since then, multiple spending reviews and Budgets have been passed with no significant investment in radiotherapy. The oft-repeated £130 million announced in 2016 as part of the long-term plan was spent long, long ago, so I hope that the Minister will not trot that out again. Yet a relatively modest investment of £850 million over three years could have a guaranteed and dramatic impact on cancer survival. I hope the Minister will take up the hon. Member for Easington's request that she meet us as an all-party group and, more importantly, the clinicians, so that we may talk her through this all-party plan backed by the clinicians, which will help her out and help her deal with the backlog.

      The Minister should tackle perverse tariffs that do active harm to cancer treatment, and she could do so at no cost whatsoever to the taxpayer-it is about spending the money differently and less foolishly. Staff are restricted from using centres with more modern, precise kit that can treat patients in fewer sessions; instead, they must treat less effectively and over more sessions because, stupidly, the tariff rewards the number of visits, not the precision or effectiveness of treatment. The Government must be pragmatic and accept the offer from the private sector to centrally commission its capacity-at cost and not for profit-to deliver treatment on the NHS to clear the backlog and to save lives.

      We must especially care for, value and boost the work- force. Radiotherapy oncologists, radiographers, engineers and physicists-dedicated, passionate professionals -are close to breaking point. The survey by Radiotherapy UK and the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, to which the hon. Member for Easington referred, showed that 75% of those professionals believe that their unit could not meet pre-covid capacity with the kit they have. Some 80% reported seeing more advanced tumours than ever before in their careers and, as has been said, nearly 80% had thought about leaving the profession.

      In Cumbria and right across the UK, radiotherapy treatment and the outstanding workforce have so much more to offer in the fight to save lives than successive Governments have seen fit to acknowledge. All parties bear responsibility for that. I ask the Minister to be a laser trailblazer and to deploy radiotherapy at its full capacity, so we can end needless deaths and catch up with cancer.

  • Jan 6, 2022:
    • Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme | Commons debates

      Back in the summer, when the Government announced the scheme, we were told:

      "Priority will be given to women and girls, and religious and other minorities, who are most at risk of human rights abuses and dehumanising treatment by the Taliban."

      However, the Minister has just told us in her statement that women and children, LGBT people and people from religious minorities will not be able to apply until year two of the scheme. Back in the summer, they were a priority. Now, they will feel betrayed and abandoned to persecution or worse. Will she reconsider her decision?

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      Mr Sharma, I am very grateful to you for giving me a moment or two at the end. Thank you for giving us all the opportunity to make our points today. I pay tribute to the following for their contributions: the hon. Members for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and for North Devon (Selaine Saxby), my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), and the Minister himself. I hope I have not missed anybody out. There were also some useful interventions, mostly from Members who are no longer in their place, although the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) is still present.

      Lots of things were said. We were reminded that this issue affects not just rural areas, but coastal areas and cities. It has an impact on the hospitality and tourism economy and the workforce. I speak to lots of people in hospitality and tourism, and they are very keen that action is taken. This is not about tourism versus action; this is about the determination of the tourism industry that action should be taken. Of course, other industries and forms of employment-for example, in health and education-are also hugely affected by the lack of a local permanent population.

      I welcome the review that the Minister talked about. That is all good-but it is all we got. I was not overwhelmed by a tidal wave of urgency-in fact, quite the opposite. In the seconds that I have left, I want to say to the Minister that inaction is action. It is action on behalf of those who own multiple homes against our communities. I want to see an awful lot more than we have seen today. By the time a part of what we proposed is looked at in a review, which will take years because they always do, there will be another 32% and then another 32%, and the communities at risk of dying that I talked about earlier will be actually dead. We need urgency right now, so I ask for further meetings immediately. The Minister talks about the planning rules, but how about letting national parks pilot the differential in planning use categories? That, at least, would be a start, to demonstrate that it could be possible. I am disappointed by the lack of urgency, but I am grateful for the opportunity.

      Question put and agreed to.

      Resolved,

      That this House has considered the matter of second homes and holiday lets in rural communities.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I will be guided by you, Mr Sharma. Unless people are desperate, I will not take any more interventions. Members have the opportunity to speak after I finish.

      The point that the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Robin Millar) makes is important; the UK Government have powers and I will come on to talk about the things that they could do. There are things that the Welsh Government could do, and there are some things that they are already doing that the UK Government are not doing-we could learn some lessons from them. There are also some powers that local authorities and national parks have, but those are very limited. It is essentially about taxation and planning law, in particular; those things come from both the devolved and central Administrations. However, it is a perfectly sensible and intelligent point that the hon. Member makes.

      Now might be the moment, having asked the Minister to acknowledge that the catastrophe is real and to act, for me to give him some ideas about how he might act. What could and should the Government do? I propose seven steps to save rural communities. First, they could make second homes and holiday lets new and separate categories of planning use. This would mean that councils and national parks would have the power to put a limit on the number of such properties in each town and village, protecting the majority of houses for permanent occupation. Secondly, they could provide targeted, ringfenced finance so that planning departments have the resources to police this new rule effectively.

      Thirdly, the Government could follow the lead of the Welsh Government and give councils the power to increase council tax by up to 100% on second homes in the worst-affected communities. That would serve to protect those communities and generate significant revenue that could then be ploughed back into their threatened schools and into new affordable housing for local families. A quick assessment shows that, in Coniston alone, that would raise £750,000 a year, which would make a colossal difference to that community.

      Fourthly, the Government could force all holiday let owners to pay council tax, as they can avoid paying anything at all if they are deemed a small business.

      Fifthly, the Government could give councils and national parks the power to ensure that, at least in some cases, 100% of new builds are genuinely affordable, and provide funding to pump prime those developments, possibly in part via the proceeds of a second homes council tax supplement. We have a deeply broken housing market. Of course, developers can sell any property that they build in our rural communities for a handsome price, but that is surely not the most important thing. Is it not time to stop building simply to meet demand, and instead build to meet need?

      Sixthly, the Government could simply keep their manifesto promise and ban section 21 evictions.

      Seventhly, the Government can ensure that platforms such as Airbnb are not allowed to cut corners and undermine the traditional holiday let industry. Their properties should have to meet the same standards as any other rental. Failure to do that is unsafe, unfair and creates a fast track for the Lakeland clearances to continue and escalate.

      I want to be constructive, and I hope that I have been. I called for this debate not to throw bricks at the Government, but because I love my communities and I am despairing at what is happening to them. I am determined that Ministers should understand the depth and scale of this catastrophe, and that they should take radical action right now. I support free markets, but unregulated markets that are obviously broken are not free at all. That is when they need the visible hand of Government to referee and intervene.

      The Government will have noticed that, in recent months, rural Britain has demonstrated at the ballot box that it will not tolerate being taken for granted. This debate gives Ministers an early opportunity to demonstrate, in return, that they will stop taking us for granted, standing idly by while rural communities are rapidly destroyed.

      To those of us who live in Cumbria and other beautiful parts of our country, it is obvious what is happening, and it is heartbreaking. Likewise, it is obvious to us what needs to be done, and it frustrates us, to the point of fury, that the Government have so far failed to even acknowledge the problem, much less to do anything about it. Today is their chance to put that right. Rural Britain is watching.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I do not care who solves it-it needs solving. The UK Government have got powers that they could use.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I have, and I will come to some suggestions in a moment, including on how we might tackle the issue-to put it neutrally-of Airbnb. The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the need for such a scheme is huge. Undoubtedly, the ease with which people can turn a home into a holiday let is part of the problem. The consequences are phenomenal. The people I am speaking about are real human beings; I could pick dozens and dozens more to talk about. What it means for them is that they have to leave the area. This is no less than a Lakeland clearance: whole communities ejected from the places where they were raised, where they had chosen to raise their families, or where they had set down roots to live, work and contribute to our economy.

      Will the Minister accept that this is both morally abhorrent and economically stupid? We have businesses in Cumbria that, having survived covid so far, are now reducing their opening hours or closing all together because they cannot find staff anymore. We have people isolated and vulnerable because they cannot find care staff. There are friends of mine in that situation, in part because the local workforce has been effectively cleared out and expelled. In each case I mentioned earlier-in Sedbergh, Ambleside and Grange-the people could not find anywhere else to live in those communities or in the wider community. They have had to uproot and move away all together. How is the economy of Britain's second biggest tourism destination expected to deliver for Britain's wider economy without anybody to staff it?

      What about the children who have to move away, and are forced to move school, and leave behind friends and support networks? What about those left behind in our dwindling communities, whose schools are now threatened with closure? I have spoken to MPs, not just those who are here and for whose presence I am massively grateful, but from rural communities right across this House. Most of those, particularly in England and Wales, are from the Conservative party. There is a kind of private agreement that this is a catastrophe. They see it in their own constituencies: the collapse of affordable, available housing for local communities is killing towns and villages in Cornwall, Northumberland, Shropshire, Devon, Somerset, North Yorkshire, the highlands of Scotland and rural Wales, as well as in my home of Cumbria.

      Our rural communities want two things from the Minister today: first, a sign that he understands that this catastrophe is happening; and secondly, a commitment not to wait for the planning Bill, but to act radically and to act right now.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      The hon. Lady makes a great point and I am grateful for her intervention. It is not just a rural issue, although it may predominantly be rural. York is clearly a good example of somewhere that suffers in a different way. I will come to the issue of holiday lets and some of the answers in a moment. It will rob communities of their very life if we do not intervene. I am not someone who is anti-market-I am anti-broken market, and this is a broken market. This is our opportunity to do something about it.

      Excessive second home ownership is a colossal problem in our communities. The purpose of this debate is to shake the Government out of their demonstrable and inexcusable inaction and to take the action required to save our communities.

      The crisis has become a catastrophe, and it is not just about second homes. Holiday lets are an important part of our tourism economy. In the Lake district, we argue and believe that we are the most visited part of Britain outside London. Our tourism economy is worth more than £3 billion a year and employs 60,000 people-comfortably Cumbria's biggest employer. It is a vibrant industry and, by its very nature, a joyful one; I am proud to be a voice for Cumbria tourism in this place. Those 60,000 people working in hospitality and tourism need to live somewhere. Some 80% of the entire working-age population of the Lake district already works in hospitality and tourism. We need to increase the number of working-age people who can afford to live and raise a family in our communities, yet the absolute opposite is happening at a rate of knots.

      During the pandemic, in South Lakeland alone-just one district that makes up part of the Lake district-there was a 32% rise in one year in the number of holiday lets. I assure the Minister that those were not new builds; they were not magicked out of thin air. Those new holiday lets emerged in 2021 following the lifting of the covid eviction ban. That is not to blame the ban; it was a good idea, and it had to come to an end at some point. My point is that that rise was over a tiny period of time: less than 12 months, in reality. The fact is that this time last year those new holiday lets were someone's home.

      In Sedbergh, Kirkby Lonsdale, Kendal, Windermere, Staveley, Ambleside, Coniston, Grasmere, Grange and throughout Cumbria, I have met people who have been evicted from their homes under a section 21 eviction order-which, incidentally, this Government promised to ban in their last manifesto.

      Among the hundreds evicted, I think of the couple with two small children in Ambleside, who struggled to pay £800 a month for their flat above a shop in town; they were evicted last spring only to find the home they had lived in for years on Airbnb for £1,200 a week. I think of the mum near Grange, whose teenage son had lived in their rented home his whole life; they were evicted only to see their property on Airbnb a few days later for over £1,000 a week. I think of the tradesman from Sedbergh, who had served the community for 15 years; a few days after he was evicted, his former home was also on Airbnb for £1,000 a week. There are hundreds more individuals and families in the same situation right across rural Cumbria.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his helpful contribution, and for his ongoing concern and interest in this issue, which is very laudable indeed. In one sense, this issue is not complex at all. If a person is forced out of their community, it is not slightly complex; it is just bloomin' tragic. Yes, there is a planning Bill, and I look forward to that. I might feel all sorts of dread about that Bill, but it is an opportunity to do something. However, every single day is an opportunity to do something. The opportunity was two years ago, a year ago, last week and the week before, and the Government do nothing.

      The simple reality is that it is not that complex to do things that will shift the dial and save the dales and other rural communities that are being undermined in the way they are. That is what so frustrating to us: there are people from all parties in this Chamber today, and there are other people who would be here on a normal Thursday if it were not this time of year and if there were any votes today. The reality is that we know there is a problem, and we see no action from the Government. Every day that goes by is another day wasted. It is not complex-it is just tragic.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his intervention, which is really helpful and worthwhile. I would say two things. First, we have a desperate lack of affordable private rented accommodation, so we want both social rented houses and houses in the private rented stock. It seems to me that that is clearly the route for the hon. Gentleman's constituent to go down.

      Secondly, possibly the only thing in the coalition agreement that had anything to do with me whatsoever was a commitment to what we called "home on the farm": the ability, which is still the Government's stated policy, for farmers to convert underused or semi-used farm buildings into affordable homes for families, but also as part of the wider housing network. These are all small ounces that will help us to shift the problem, and I wish that the hon. Gentleman's Government in Wales and his Government here would take up these suggestions.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is that the first homes scheme cannot be instead of other schemes but has to be in addition to them. By the way, in a community like ours where the average household price is 11 times greater than the average income, the first homes scheme will not help people; it will not even nearly help them. Maybe if their income was seven times less than the average house price, it might just help them, so it is a good scheme, but it is barely even the tip of the iceberg. Yes, I have spoken to the previous Secretary of State to ask him to make our area a pilot, but that does not touch the sides, if I am honest. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman has raised a really important point.

      During the pandemic, I have spoken to many local estate agents across our county. Around 80% of all house sales during the past two years have been in the second home market. Those who have the money to do so are rethinking their priorities, investing in the rising value of property and seeking a piece of the countryside to call their own, and we can kind of understand that. I do not wish to demonise anybody with a second home, or to say that there are no circumstances in which it is okay to have one, but let me be blunt: surely, someone's right to have a second home must not trump a struggling family's right to have any home, yet in reality, apparently it does. Every day that the Government fail to act is another day that they are backing those who are lucky enough to have multiple homes against those who cannot find any home in the lakes, the dales or any other rural community in our country.

    • Second Homes and Holiday Lets: Rural Communities - [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair] | Backbench Business | Westminster Hall debates

      I beg to move,

      That this House has considered the matter of second homes and holiday lets in rural communities.

      It is a huge pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. Happy new year to you, too, and to colleagues.

      It is a huge privilege to serve our communities in Cumbria-our towns, villages lakes and dales, among the rugged beauty of England's finest landscapes-yet the people who live in our communities are even more precious than the places themselves. We welcome those who see Cumbria as a holiday destination: a place for leisure and relaxation, and a place of peaceful serenity and exhilarating extremes. It is our collective privilege to be the stewards of such a spectacular environment for the country, yet our full-time local communities face an existential threat unlike any other in the UK. I am immensely grateful to have secured this debate, because the housing crisis that has faced our communities in Cumbria and elsewhere in rural Britain for decades has rapidly become a catastrophe during the two years of the pandemic.

      For the last few decades, we have seen an erosion in the number of properties in Cumbria that are available and affordable for local people to buy or rent. What little I know of geology tells me that although erosion usually takes place over huge passages of time, sometimes a whole rockface may collapse or a whole piece of a cliff might drop into the sea in a single instant. That is what has happened to our housing stock during the pandemic. In the space of less than two years, a bad situation has become utterly disastrous.

      I have been calling for the Government to take action from the very beginning, so I confess to being frustrated and angry that Ministers have yet to do anything meaningful to tackle the problem. As a result, many of us living in rural communities feel ignored, abandoned and taken for granted by the Government, and we stand together today as rural communities to declare that we will not be taken for granted one moment longer.

      In South Lakeland, the average house price is 11 times greater than the average household income. Families on low or middle incomes, and even those on reasonably good incomes, are completely excluded from the possibility of buying a home. Although the local council in South Lakeland has enabled the building of more than 1,000 new social rented properties, there are still more than 3,000 families languishing on the housing waiting list. Even before the pandemic, at least one in seven houses in my constituency was a second home-a bolthole or an investment for people whose main home is somewhere else.

      In many towns and villages, such as Coniston, Hawkshead, Dent, Chapel Stile and Grasmere, the majority of properties are now empty for most of the year. Across the Yorkshire Dales, much of which is in Cumbria and in my constituency, more than a quarter of the housing stock in the national park is not lived in. In Elterwater in Langdale, 85% of the properties are second homes. Without a large enough permanent population, villages just die. The school loses numbers and then closes. The bus service loses passengers, so it gets cut. The pub loses its trade, the post office loses customers and the church loses its congregation, so they close too. Those who are left behind are isolated and often impoverished in communities whose life has effectively come to an end.