Chris Loder – 2022 Speech on Achieving Economic Growth

The speech made by Chris Loder, the Conservative MP for West Dorset, in the House of Commons on 18 May 2022.

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate this afternoon and to follow the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). I will reserve my comments on achieving economic growth to the rural areas of the United Kingdom. I particularly advocate for my constituency of West Dorset.

The Queen’s Speech contained a number of welcome Bills, including the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, the transport Bill, the Procurement Bill and, importantly, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.

West Dorset is a very rural constituency, covering 400 square miles. Thirty per cent. of the population is over 65 and one in 12 is over 80. Eighty-five per cent. of all our funding comes from local taxation, and two thirds of our council tax goes to support those needing social care. It is constituencies such as mine that have a really strong requirement for regeneration and levelling up in a way that sometimes this House does not quite recognise. The default view of West Dorset is that it is a particularly well-off place, but I can tell the House that many parts are far from it. West Dorset is in as much need as anywhere of levelling up, especially as we are one of the few authorities to have zero revenue support grant, despite having one of the highest council tax rates in the country.

I am particularly pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Brexit Opportunities is on the Treasury Bench this afternoon. I was delighted to welcome him to West Dorset just a few weeks ago to talk about some of the challenges and difficulties we face. In West Dorset, 97% of our businesses are small or micro-sized. The pandemic was very harsh to us: 6,500 very small businesses existed before the pandemic; 5,500 are there now. So I was delighted to learn from my right hon. Friend that the procurement Bill will help those very small and micro-sized businesses to tap into the procurement system. For far too long, those businesses have been held back from accessing that system because of bureaucracy or European rules and legislation. Such things as approved suppliers lists will, I understand, be reviewed. I think that will mean an enormous amount to constituencies such as mine, with such a high proportion of small and micro-sized businesses.

Many in this House know that, for 20 years before I was elected in 2019, I worked for the railways. That is one of the reasons I am delighted to see the transport Bill feature in the Queen’s Speech. Bus and rail services have also been a contentious matter in West Dorset. I have the worst frequency rail line in the country—a three-hourly train frequency—that many often do not recognise. Inter-regional rail connectivity is also very poor, which is another reason I am delighted that we will have a transport Bill that will reform the railways and bring lots of opportunity and in particular take full advantage of regional connectivity, meaning that, where we see franchise boundaries precluding sensible cross-regional connectivity measures, we will have the opportunity to fully review those.

West Dorset is a very agricultural area as well. Agriculture plays an enormous part in the local economy. For that reason, and as a farmer’s son, I am delighted to see that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will be coming back in this parliamentary Session. It contains a lot of important measures that I would have liked us to have dealt with before, but I am pleased that it is to come back. Animal worrying is a considerable problem for our sheep farmers in and around West Dorset, and the Bill will put the responsibility on dog owners to keep their dogs under control. I hope that, during our debates on the Bill, we will also discuss the unnecessary non-stun slaughter of animals for supply chain purposes.

I am delighted to be able to support the Queen’s Speech. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Brexit Opportunities is present to hear my points and to reiterate the conversation we had when he visited West Dorset. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.