Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
When the Prime Minister called a General Election on Tuesday she revealed that she had made the final decision whilst walking with her husband in the glorious countryside of North Wales. Whilst her reasoning was largely related to delivering Brexit negotiations this will be a crucial election for the countryside, perhaps even more than for the rest of the country. The next government will be the first since 1973 to create a policy for British agriculture and the management of the countryside. Rural communities, and the landscapes they conserve, must therefore be a focus for politicians of all parties that aspire to government. Our countryside is a national treasure admired around the world, but it is also a home and workplace for millions of us. Those who live and work there can be forgiven for feeling that the countryside is often treated as a theme park, and does not receive the political support and action it needs and deserves. Rural life holds specific challenges and politicians of all parties must recognise this and make rural policy a significant part of the election campaign.
Specifically there are five policies we want to see at the heart of the next government’s agenda which we will put to every candidate in the General Election:
- to put the interests of rural communities front and centre of Brexit negotiations
- to ‘Buy British’ and support our farmers and producers
- to repeal the Hunting Act and recognise the value of shooting and fishing
- to connect the countryside by delivering first class digital connectivity
- to tackle crime in rural areas
The Countryside Alliance has also launched a Brexit policy document setting out the issues that need to be addressed in order to sustain a living and working countryside outside of the EU. The new Government that will form after the General Election on 8 June 2017 will have to address many important rural issues, but it is clear that Brexit will be front and centre of the work of the next Parliament. Decisions that are made in relation to trade, regulations, agricultural and environmental policies, will shape the future of our countryside for many years to come. At the heart of these decisions are defining questions about the kind of landscapes we want to create, the food we want to eat, and the communities we want to develop.
A new relationship with Europe brings opportunities. We have the chance to consider which EU policies are working and which ones are not, and develop an agricultural policy that is more appropriate for farming in this country. However, there are challenges and Brexit will only be a success if the interests of rural communities are central to the decision making. This is not simply self-interest. The countryside is vital for our food and farming industry, provides public goods and recreation for millions of people, and its landscapes are an important part of our cultural heritage and home to an astonishing range of wildlife and habitats. A successful living and working countryside is important for us all.
Meanwhile we have every expectation that the Conservative Party will retain its manifesto commitment to a vote on the repeal of the Hunting Act. In 2015 the Conservative Government was returned with a small majority of 12 seats. It published amendments to the Hunting Act in the form of a Statutory Instrument which was dropped when the SNP reversed its previously stated position not to vote on legislation that does not affect Scotland. The SNP government in Scotland has subsequently commissioned an independent review into its hunting legislation which came out clearly in support of the use of packs of hounds to flush foxes.
It is as important as ever that we all use our votes to support candidates who have the interests of the countryside at heart. Please ensure you are registered by 22nd May. Register to vote today.
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