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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

  • Feb 12, 2020:
    • Support for Hill Farmers - [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      I want to be very clear that I have agreed with everything that the Minister has said about the area-based payment, its unjustifiable nature and how it is not a basis on which to continue-indeed, I support in principle what we are talking about with the environmental land management scheme. However, my concern is that we have a seven-year transition in which we are about to phase out the current scheme more quickly than we are to phase in the scheme to replace it. That is where we lose the people we need in order to deliver the public goods in the long term.

    • Support for Hill Farmers - [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The essence is this: farmers manage our landscape and work it as owners or tenants-many of our constituents are tenant farmers who have even more insecurity in the current situation. Without their being able to make a living as active farmers-food production is their primary motivation-we lose their presence on the landscape to deliver all those public goods. First and foremost, the Government must maintain the current farmers on the uplands. If by a slip between cup and lip over the next seven years, we lose a chunk of a hill farming community, we will not get them back. Even if we do, it will be at vast expense.

      The delivery of public goods is undoable without the people to deliver them. That seems basic common sense. ELMS fills me with some optimism; the thinking behind the new scheme is positive and the industry as a whole welcomes it. What I am bothered about is that the transition could be so clunky, and lacking understanding of how marginal the incomes of those farmers are, that we end up losing them in the process, and they will see it as a seven-year notice to quit.

      We borrow Britain's uplands from the generations to come, and we are beyond grateful to those who maintain them. We must not, either by design or by accident, threaten the future of our uplands or their stewards.

    • Support for Hill Farmers - [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      I beg to move,

      That this House has considered support for hill farmers.

      It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship and to be guided by you today, Mr Bone. It is also a real honour to be asked to speak on a subject that is of massive importance to my constituents and to people across the country.

      South Cumbria's landscape is spectacular. Much of it is within the Lake district and the Yorkshire dales, and pretty much all of it has been maintained over generations by our hill farmers. The UK's uplands are vital to us all, yet they are generally exposed and remote. Furthermore, upland farms are disadvantaged compared with lowland ones due to a shorter grass growing season. Hill farming is therefore often a marginal occupation. My fear is that the unintended consequences of transition to new payment methods and new export arrangements could push hundreds of marginal upland farms out of business. In this debate, I want to help the Government to get this transition right, so that our hill farmers do not pay an unbearable cost and so that Britain does not lose a priceless asset.

      I speak regularly to hill farmers in our communities in Cumbria. Many of them are terrified of what is to come and do not have confidence in the Government plans revealed thus far. Right now, their No. 1 concern is the plan to phase out the basic payment scheme from next January, before the environmental land management system is ready to be delivered. The figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs tell us that an average of 85% of livestock farm incomes come from the basic payment.

      Despite regular calls from the National Farmers Union, the Tenant Farmers Association and others to think again, the Government have not listened so far. A ham-fisted phasing out of the basic payment may see farm failures across the country, especially in the uplands. The stark reality is that the phase-out of the basic payment begins in 10.5 months' time, but environmental land management schemes will not be available for everyone until 2028. Rolling out schemes before they are ready can have a catastrophic impact. The lesson of universal credit should have taught the Government that.

      We have already had the first predictable evidence of slippage in the timetable. The plan to test a national pilot scheme for ELMS this year has already been pushed back to the autumn, yet the Government insists on ploughing ahead with the phase-out before anyone is ready, least of all the Government themselves. Removing the existing support before the new system is properly tested and ready to implement seems reckless and will surely cost many hill farmers their businesses, and many farming families their future.

      Projections prepared by the Uplands Alliance using DEFRA's farm business survey data from the Andersons Centre consultancy suggest significant reductions in farm business incomes by 2024, and further show a net loss of income to the average farm in 2028, even assuming that ELMS is fully rolled out by that stage. Put simply, the Government are asking hill farmers to endure seven years of lost income, seven years of uncertainty, and seven years when we may lose the backbone and future of our industry, with devastating long-term consequences for our food supply and our environment. I simply urge the Minister to delay the phasing out of the basic payment until the environmental land management system is fully operational for everyone. It would be a tragedy if the Government messed up what might well be a positive new scheme by botching the implementation period.

      For all that uncertainty, the outline of the new environmental land management system is cause for some optimism. It is right that we should reward farmers for public goods. The industry is behind that and so am I, but let us get the details and the implementation right. The greatest public good that comes from our uplands is of course the production of food: 45% of UK lamb is produced in the uplands, as is 55% of the UK suckler herd and 35% of UK milk. Given that straw and feed grown in the lowlands go to feed animals in the uplands, if hill farming recedes, clearly lowland farming would soon sadly follow. A country that loses capacity to feed itself is a country in big trouble.

      An alarming 50% of the food we consume is imported. Twenty years ago, that figure was more like 35%. Our food security looks more and more tenuous as every year goes by, although it is not just the Government's stubborn insistence on the premature phase-out of basic payments that threatens our food security but the worry that ELMS itself may inadvertently or deliberately see the draining of funds from upland farms.

      One mistake would be to fail to use the skills of hill farmers to fight against climate change. For example, commendably, the National Trust wants to increase the amount of its land used for trees from 7% to 17%, but one means of delivering that would be completely to bypass farmers. Indeed, any other landowner might do the same. However, if we bypass hill farmers, we will lose hill farmers, and if we lose hill farmers, we will lose the very people whom we most need in order to deliver the whole range of vital environmental goods to tackle and to mitigate climate change. I therefore ask the Minister to ensure that ELMS is delivered only to active farmers. After all, it would be a disgrace if the replacement of the common agricultural policy was a policy that removed agriculture from the commons.

      Recently, our rural and farming network took the DEFRA policy team to a hill farm near Slaidburn. The farm is already in a higher-level stewardship scheme and doing all it possibly can, but it is still more reliant on the basic payment than on environmental payments. They asked the DEFRA team what else the farm could do environmentally to make up for the imminent loss of the basic payment. The Department offered no ideas. Perhaps the Minister will be able to reassure hill farmers that ELMS will not be biased against certain categories of farm simply because of the nature of their landscapes.

      In addition, a concern among farmers in my community is that the new ELMS will be much easier for some farms than others by virtue of location and, to some extent, sheer good luck. For example, a grassland farm, with mostly fences for boundaries and not so many walls or hedges may struggle to tick sufficient environmental boxes, compared with a farm with some existing woodland, perhaps a bit of wetland, or hedges.

      Hill farmers are essential to the promotion and protection of biodiversity. They maintain rare natural habitats and ensure the upkeep of our rich heritage landscapes. They protect iconic British breeds such as Herdwick, Swaledale and rough fell sheep. We have to be prepared, through ELMS, to count the rearing of such breeds as a clear public good worthy of attracting public money. Indeed, many of the public goods provided by farmers are by-products of the fact that we have viable farms producing food. That is why a major focus must be to ensure that hill farmers get a fair price for their produce.

      That is why, to be honest, I am disappointed that the Government are not more forthcoming about plans to expand the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator, a piece of machinery that the Liberal Democrats were proud to help deliver in government-but we were sad that the Conservatives chose to water it down before it reached the statute book. Will the Minister commit to ensuring that the Groceries Code Adjudicator has its remit widened so that it can look at the whole supply chain and act on referrals from advocates such as the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association and indeed Members of Parliament, and so that it is given the power to levy sanctions that will truly hurt those retailers and processors who abuse their market power to pay our farmers a pittance?

      Water management work in the uplands is utterly vital-the impact of Storm Ciara over the weekend was a reminder of just how important that is. Farmers protect our towns and villages from flooding. In December, we marked the fourth anniversary of Storm Desmond; the memories and the financial and emotional impact of the devastation it caused are still fresh for many of our communities in Cumbria and elsewhere. Amidst the pain there is much to be celebrated, and we can be proud about how our communities responded and coped. Farmers were a key part of that; they did essential work in places such as Kentmere and Longsleddale. For our farmers to do vital work to mitigate flood damage and, indeed, be part of natural flood management schemes, they need to be equipped. The scope of public goods must be broad enough to reward them for it.

      Central to environmental land management schemes must be farm succession. Attracting young people to hill farming, incentivising them to enter the industry and supporting them as they grow their business means allowing older farmers to retire with dignity and to an affordable home. Given the astonishing price of housing in rural communities such as mine, that will take serious Government intervention.

      Contrary to popular myth, many hill farmers voted remain-the majority in my patch did-but those who voted leave often tell me that they were motivated by a desire to do away with the red tape and bureaucracy of the CAP-or rather, the British application of the CAP. I trust that the Minister will not replicate or even add to the burdens of bureaucracy, badly run payment agencies, excessive farm visits and insecurity that have been the hallmarks of a hill farmer's lot in recent times.

      To achieve a fair deal for hill farmers, it is essential that the Bill defines public goods to recognise the incredible work that they are doing. The public good that I fear may be in most danger is perhaps the hardest one to quantify, measure or reward: the work that farmers do to maintain the aesthetics of our landscape. I can look down Langdale from the Pikes. I do not know how to quantify and codify a financial reward for the farmers who carefully maintain the view below me, but I know that it takes my breath away.

      Those farmers underpin the £3-billion-a-year Lake district tourism economy that employs 60,000 people throughout our county. Our farmers' work was acknowledged in 2017 when UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake district. It will not be easy to quantify and codify that, which is why the Government should not fool themselves that they will be able to do so competently and without teething trouble in just a few years. The Government need to give themselves time and not rush the phasing out of basic payments.

      Britain's uplands feed us. They give us biodiversity, protection from flooding, carbon sinks, heritage and rare breeds. They underpin a multi-billion-pound visitor economy. They give us space to breathe, to soak up awesome creation in its rawest form; they stir us and they settle us.

  • Feb 11, 2020:
    • Immigration: EU Nationals | Home Office | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what progress her Department has made on circulating information on the EU Settled Status Scheme to EU citizens and communities in rural and other hard to reach areas of the UK.

    • EU Single Market Access: Manufacturing and the Economy | Treasury | Commons debates

      In the South Lakes we have 3,000 local families waiting for a council home, yet the Government's own Migration Advisory Committee says that the Government's plan for visas and migrant pay will see an 8% reduction in the construction workforce. So will the Chancellor explain who is going to build the homes that families in the South Lakes so desperately need?

  • Feb 6, 2020:
  • Feb 5, 2020:
    • Local Government Finance | Commons debates

      I will characteristically endeavour to behave, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a massive honour to follow the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr Bacon). I hope that he is now feeling the relief that he was looking forward to earlier. The combination of Orpington and nerves rings a bell with me. I spent the night in Orpington before Blackburn Rovers won the league in 1995, and I could not sleep. I got the train back home, and the rest is history. I am also, by the way, the sixth-great-nephew, by marriage and adoption, of Charles Darwin, so it is a delight to know that I had a famous relative in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. It was also a delight and an honour to listen to the maiden speeches of the hon. Members for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), and to engage in some ginger solidarity with the hon. Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore). I wish them all the very best for their time in this place.

      Turning to the matter in hand, local authority funding cuts are the easiest for any Government of any colour to make. They make the savings, then someone else gets the blame. It is a transparent tactic, but I am not sure that it is as politically risk-free as Governments tend to think it is. It has certainly caused serious harm to families and communities right across the country. In my time serving in this place since my maiden speech-which I think was recorded on Betamax-our county council, our district council and our two national parks, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, have suffered significant cuts. It is worth bearing it in mind that national parks unofficially form part of the local government family, although they have no council tax-raising powers. The Lake District is the national park with the biggest population of any in the country, and it acts as a local authority in relation to some housing, planning and environmental matters for anyone who lives there. With that lack of ability to raise money of its own, those cuts are felt more keenly, to the extent that the Lake District national park is even talking about selling off iconic pieces of land.

      Cuts are not without consequence. Our police service also has to live with the cuts that have effectively been imposed upon it. Our police and crime commissioner has been forced to raise additional council tax just to prevent the Conservatives' cuts from getting any worse over recent years. Our police are left increasingly vulnerable, with a mere handful of officers-sometimes as few as six at any given time-left to protect my constituency, which covers an area the size of Greater London.

      Owing to the Conservatives taking money away from our councils, most head teachers in South Lakeland have had to lay off staff, reduce teachers' hours or merge classes. The Conservatives take advantage of the fact that heads want to be professional, disguise their financial hardship and protect children and parents, so those cuts are often safely hidden, but they hurt. They hurt children with special needs the most, but that is apparently okay so long as the Government can find a way to escape the blame and pass it on to local government.

      Like the constituencies of all today's maiden speakers, my constituency is stunningly beautiful, but it is also vast, and its communities are dispersed. Public transport is vital to keeping people connected, preventing isolation and loneliness, and ensuring that people can get to work, school or college or, indeed, go shopping. Government council cuts mean that Cumbria no longer has any subsidised bus services. We recently successfully fought to protect under-threat services in Arnside, Levens and Cartmel, but we should not have to fight tooth and nail to save every single route. We should have a settlement that underpins a vibrant, affordable and reliable bus service right across the south lakes and Cumbria.

      The Government have even slashed funding in areas where they promised investment. Just over a year ago, having loudly proclaimed their commitment to preventive health care in the NHS long-term plan, the Government then cut public health budgets by £85 million within a matter of weeks. That means that Cumbria's spending is now set to drop to just £36 per head. That is barely half the national average of £63 per head and ridiculously lower than the £241 per head per year that the City of London receives.

      The impact of that has been tangible. With the loss of school nurses, children have been left vulnerable to slipping into bad mental, dental and physical health, and the Government's cuts mean that Cumbria now spends only a pathetic 75p per child per year on preventive mental health. We know that proper investment in public health budgets would allow us to place a mental health worker in every school, which is key to young people being resilient and healthy and to ensuring that problems do not become so severe further down the line. This is also the Government who promised a specialist one-to-one eating disorder service to the children and young people of south Cumbria, but they have still failed to deliver that service four years on.

      The motion rightly mentions both adult and children's social care. As we speak, a 96-year-old constituent of mine has been stuck in a care home for more than 10 months because the council has been unable to put a care package together. At his advancing age, he is being denied the ability to live out his time in familiar surroundings with the ones he loves. Social care is now threadbare. A lady who had life-changing injuries, rendering her severely disabled, has sought my help on many occasions when carers have not turned up, leaving her completely unable to access food or water. It is, of course, always the most vulnerable who are hit first and hit hardest by the loss of services. The omission of deprivation from the Government's calculation of funding seems to be a case of the Conservatives looking at the injuries that they have caused and then choosing to throw insult on top of them.

      According to the usual metric, my constituency is not the most deprived. We have unemployment at less than 1%, although 2,300 children are living in poverty, which is a reminder of the growing number of people in work and in poverty, and other parts of Cumbria, especially in the west, will be hugely hit by the Government's choice to ignore deprivation. But the Government have made a choice, and it is to be cloth eared to the needs of rural northern communities such as mine. Local government funding is not some dry municipal concern; it is about the people who need care, the children in our schools, and the safety of our communities. That is why fairness matters. The Government must do a U-turn on their cuts to rural northern communities, because Cumbria deserves better than this.

    • Local Government Finance | Commons debates

      I am fully supportive-as we were during the coalition-of the Government's plans to devolve power to the regions of England and to local authorities. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, though, that if this is about local people making local decisions, they should not be forced to accept a Mayor or, if they are a rural community, a particular urban-type structure in order to get those powers?

  • Feb 3, 2020:
    • Livestock: Disease Control | Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with reference to the recent outbreak of coronavirus, if she will bring forward proposals to (a) prevent animal disease and (b) ensure animal (i) health and (ii) welfare in the Agriculture Bill.

    • Livestock: Disease Control | Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment she has made on the effect of preventable disease on the (a) health, (b) welfare, (c) productivity and (d) sustainability of agriculture.

    • Livestock: Vaccination | Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment she has made of the potential merits of routine vaccination in livestock; and whether she will provide support to farmers delivering a preventative approach to livestock disease.

    • Agriculture Bill | Commons debates

      Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a great honour to share this debate with so many Members making incredibly impressive maiden speeches on both sides of the House. I did not expect there to be even one mention of Nottingham Forest, but there were two from our new colleagues. It is a team with a rich European heritage and, like the United Kingdom, I am sure, a prosperous European future at some point.

      Today, Brexit goes from the emotional to the practical, and we are instantly reminded that "Get Brexit done" is the most misleading political slogan since David Steel told Liberals to go back to their constituencies and prepare for government. Brexit is not done and will not be done for perhaps 10 years or more, but our agricultural industries might well be done if the Government get this wrong-and there is every sign today that they will. We must design an agriculture policy that supports agriculture and food production and rewards farmers for the public goods that we rely on them for. We need to begin by acknowledging that this Bill will be a bad deal for Britain if it is not a fair deal for farmers.

      First, we must address the transition from the current system. I have been horrified by the Government's wilful deafness to the farming community over the phasing out of direct payments. ELMS may be a step forward, but the Government's own figures show that 85% of livestock farm incomes come through direct payments. The phase-out begins in 11 months, even though ELMS will not be fully available until 2028. That is seven years of lost income and uncertainty, when we may lose hundreds of the farmers needed to feed us and deliver vital environmental and public benefits-how short-sighted and foolish. The answer is simple: the Government must not begin to phase out the BPS until 2028, when ELMS is available to all. The Government must listen to our farmers in Cumbria and across the country and make that announcement today.

      In order to achieve a fair deal for farmers, it is essential that public goods are defined, to recognise the incredible work that they are already doing. The ultimate public good that farmers provide is food. We must have a coherent food production strategy, and yet the Bill fails to address that. It is a dreadful missed opportunity. Food production is the central motivation for most farmers, and food security is a real challenge for our farmers. Some 50% of the food we consume in the UK is imported, compared with 35% about 20 years ago. We are in a precarious position. How stupid would we be to put our farmers in a similarly precarious position?

      We could solve so many of our problems if our farmers got a fair market price for their produce. The Liberal Democrats were proud to introduce the Groceries Code Adjudicator during our time in coalition, but of course the Conservatives limited its powers. The adjudicator could be empowered to take referrals from advocates such as the NFU, the Tenant Farmers Association or, indeed, Members of Parliament. They could expand its scope to investigate unfairness in every element of the supply chain. It must have powers to penalise those who abuse their market power to pay farmers a pittance. In short, it must have the power to secure a fair price for farmers.

      A fair price for farmers will be made harder by the Bill's failure to impose import standards. The consequences of cheap goods flooding our market would be catastrophic. Cheap imports, a market watchdog that lacks teeth and the phasing out of farmers' main source of income in less a year are threats to farms that are plain for all to see except, it would appear, by this Government. If we fail to support farmers to be productive and to survive, there will be no farmers left to deliver any public goods.

      The public good that I fear is in most danger of being overlooked is the one hardest to quantify or reward-the work farmers do in maintaining the aesthetics of our land. It is a privilege to call the Lake district and the dales of south Cumbria my home. Two or three years ago, UNESCO granted world heritage site status to the Lake district, largely due to the contribution of our farmers to the maintenance of our landscape. As well as being worth £3 billion a year to the economy, tourism in Cumbria provides 60,000 jobs. Without farmers to maintain the landscape, the entire industry would be undermined.

      This is not just true of Cumbria. Helping farmers to deliver public goods and improving the productivity and resilience of UK agriculture mean releasing farmers from bureaucracy, badly run payments agencies and, worst of all, insecurity. If we want a diverse and bountiful ecology, we need farmers to steward and deliver it. If we want a better environment, we need farmers. The intentions behind this Bill may be good. In practice, though, it looks set to do more harm than good, because the Government have not listened to the farming communities that will bear the brunt of a poorly managed, detail-free transition.

    • Agriculture Bill | Commons debates

      I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. She will appreciate that in that seven-year transition period farmers will be expected to cope with the loss of the basic payment scheme-according to her Department's figures, 85% of funding for livestock farming comes from that scheme-and for all the likely and theoretical benefits of ELM it will not be functional for everybody until 2028. Does she agree that a wiser and more compassionate way of dealing with this issue would be to not phase out BPS until 2028, rather than starting before that?

    • Agriculture Bill | Commons debates

      Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?

  • Jan 29, 2020:
    • Radiotherapy | Department of Health and Social Care | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, how many patients travel for more than 45 minutes a day to access radiotherapy treatment; and if he will make a statement.

    • Radiotherapy: Medical Equipment | Department of Health and Social Care | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether he has made an estimate of the potential savings to the public purse from purchasing Linear Accelerator radiotherapy machines on a planned and rolling basis; and if he will make a statement.

    • Radiotherapy: Medical Equipment | Department of Health and Social Care | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of upgrading the NHS stock of Linear Accelerator radiotherapy machines to ensure that no machine is used beyond its recommended 10-year lifespan; and if he will make a statement.

    • Radiotherapy: Medical Equipment | Department of Health and Social Care | Written Answers

      To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what estimate he has made of the number of linear accelerator radiotherapy machines in use at NHS Trusts that are past the recommended 10 year lifespan; and if he will make a statement.

    • Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding - [Mark Pritchard in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The situation is the same in Cumbria. The point was made earlier by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), who is no longer in her place, regarding the lack of educational psychologists. The Government are not funding the support needed to get people to have their EHCP in the first place, and therefore schools are picking up the tab for assessments that have not been made. Nevertheless, the needs are absolutely still there.

      The head of Dallam School in Milnthorpe expressed concern on another matter: the lack of resources available to access quality training and training providers to equip staff to support pupils' mental health needs. Many of the other heads shared the concern that it damaged their schools' ability to do the job that they are so desperate to do. The Government can talk a good game on mental health, but they are utterly failing to invest in preventive mental health with the staff and training necessary in schools to keep our children mentally well. Indeed, across the whole of Cumbria only 75p is spent per child per year on preventive mental health work, which is an outrage.

      The Government are demoralising our teachers and letting down our children, because schools have to fund those first hours of provision for children with EHCPs. We therefore have a system that punishes schools that have a deserved reputation for being nurturing and for caring for their children's needs. The Government are systematically penalising the schools that do the right thing, and that must change. I challenge the Minister today to ensure that all funding to support children with EHCPs is delivered centrally and does not come from the school's own budget.

      I am grateful to all the headteachers who contacted me-many more than I have had time to refer to here. They are all hard-working, enthusiastic and caring, and so are their staff. I am incredibly proud of all of them, but they are desperate because Government funding has put them in an impossible position. They are outstanding professionals who love their jobs, love their schools, and are driven to make a difference in the lives of the children of Cumbria, whom they serve. Imagine how unbearable it is for them to know that they cannot do what they know they should; cannot meet the needs that they know they should; cannot support the children in the way that they know they should. It is as heartbreaking as it is outrageous. Let us have no more excuses. The Government must act.

    • Special Educational Needs and Disability Funding - [Mark Pritchard in the Chair] | Westminster Hall debates

      It is a massive honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), who made an outstanding speech. I am grateful to her for leading the debate.

      In the run-up to the debate, I contacted all the headteachers in my constituency to ask what they wanted me to tell the Minister about special educational needs funding and provision. The collective message that came back is one of desperation. In rural communities such as ours in Cumbria, small local schools simply do not have the financial resilience to cope with the ludicrous cuts they have to face from the Government, but it is especially tough when it comes to SEN funding.

      My constituency has eight secondary schools, two of which have fewer than 200 pupils; 35 primary schools, 10 of which have fewer than 30 pupils; and three primary schools smaller even than that. They are all fantastic schools. They are small because they serve sparsely populated areas that are significant distances away from one another, and small schools are the most vulnerable. One of our larger secondaries, Kendal's Queen Katherine School, spoke for all the heads when it revealed the real financial pressure in being expected to fund the first 11 hours of education, health and care plans out of the school's own budget. Because of the cuts that the Government have made to overall per-pupil funding, they have no reserves to provide that support.

      The head of Storth Primary School sent me a copy of the letter that he had written to the county. He described the school's reputation for being a caring and nurturing setting and how that has resulted in the school attracting more children with special educational needs. That should be celebrated, commended and rewarded. Instead, the lack of funding has made it a burden. In recent years the school has had children needing full-time 2:1 or 1:1 support, but no funding has been provided. They have been under a deficit recovery plan for five years. The head speaks of the pressure and anxiety that the staff are under and the frustration and pain of trying to provide the best possible care and education for all pupils on a budget that simply will not allow it.

      A similar picture was painted by the special educational needs co-ordinator at Cartmel Primary School. The local authority recommends the school as suitable for children with an EHCP and 4.3% of its children have one, significantly above the national average. Although the school expresses its pride in its reputation, it is in danger of buckling under the funding pressure that falls on its shoulders alongside the usual strains that fall on small school budgets.

      Cumbria is as vast as it is beautiful. Often in rural communities such as ours there simply is not the alternative provision available in reachable distances. The head of Langdale Primary School described how for many pupils the available special schools would require travelling extreme distances, and therefore they are effectively unavailable. She wrote with some distress that, despite the incredible hard work and enthusiasm of her excellent team, its ethos-to be wholeheartedly centred on individual children-was coming under increasing strain.

      Heads in south Cumbria say that they are challenged by the lack of staffing, and in my experience that is the case. Cuts in support staff have left teachers isolated in supporting children's needs in the classroom. St Martin & St Mary Church of England Primary School in Windermere described the extremely high criteria set to qualify for an EHCP, so only children with the most severe needs receive any funding at all. On top of that, many schools have to contend with long waiting lists for SEN referrals, followed by delayed assessments. Children are often then refused support, despite their evident need, and that leaves schools in Cumbria also having to find the resources to support the significant number of children who are in limbo, waiting for an assessment. They have needs but do not have an EHCP, and indeed they may never get one.