Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The question of who stands up for the countryside within government has been one that we have wrestled with for years. It can seem a mundane and pointless conversation, but in reality as the country becomes ever more urbanised, and the proportion of the population connected to practical rural activities decreases, it is more important than ever that government is reminded of the needs of rural communities.
The last Labour government created Defra, a department that brought together environment, farming and rural affairs. It also introduced the concept of ‘rural proofing’ which was supposed to ensure that all parts of Government considered the impact of new policies on the countryside, and in 2006 created the Commission for Rural Communities headed up by a ‘Rural Advocate’ in the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (NERC). The CRC was subsequently abolished in 2013.
The House of Lords is currently reviewing NERC and I gave evidence to the Committee earlier this week. We do not believe that ‘rural proofing’ has ever been taken seriously across Whitehall and provided evidence of policy brought forward by departments other than Defra which clearly had partial impacts on rural people which had not been properly considered.
We believe that the only way to ensure that rural interests are considered across all parts of government is to embed a rural proofing advocate in the engine room of government policy, the Cabinet Office, and to have an annual ‘rural proofing’ debate on the floor of the House of Commons where the government can be challenged on its approach. We hope the Committee will take forward this proposal in its final report.
As well as talking about the process of engaging with rural communities, we have also been talking about policy. I met the Farming Minister, George Eustice MP, on Wednesday (18 October) to discuss the basis for a new agricultural policy and the impact of Brexit on the rural economy. Further information about this meeting can be found here. We have also submitted evidence to the EFRA Committee’s inquiry into trade with the EU post Brexit and the requirements of the rural economy from food and farming, to shooting and the game market. Another busy week in Westminster.
Follow Tim @CA_TimB