Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, told delegates at the Conservative Party Conference that sustaining upland landscapes and communities is “absolutely” a public good and will receive financial support under a new agricultural policy post Brexit.
Speaking at the Countryside Alliance fringe event on Monday 1st October on whether the Conservatives speak for rural Britain, the Secretary of State said he was committed to “making sure that we preserve communities in less favoured areas”. He also recognised that countryside landscapes are “iconic and attractive, but they are also a workplace” and said it was the task of government to “make that workplace productive”.
The Secretary of State also said, “it is important we [the Government] recognise the vital role that shooting plays in rural communities”. On repeal of the Hunting Act, he said “we will leave things just as they are” which reflects the comments made by the Prime Minister earlier this year that no action would be taken on hunting in this Parliament.
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, urged the Government to base policy on “principle and evidence” and not allow “social media noise” to set the agenda. He warned the Conservatives not to take rural votes for granted and called for the Government to introduce rural proofing of all policy.
The Secretary of State acknowledged that “there will always be areas where government can do better” but said “one thing we certainly do not feel in Defra is a sense of complacency”.
Tim Bonner asked the Secretary of State why more was not being done to address rural crime such as poaching, fly-tipping, and sheep worrying which he described as “the biggest animal welfare issue in the countryside”. The Secretary of State said he took all animal welfare issues seriously and wanted to see “the strongest possible penalties” for rural crime.
Countryside Alliance Political Relations Manager, James Somerville-Meikle, commented: “Once again the Countryside Alliance has helped to put rural issues on the agenda at Conservative conference, and ensure they are not overlooked in this important Parliament for the countryside with the task of delivering Brexit.
“We are extremely grateful to the Defra Secretary, Michael Gove, for attending our breakfast meeting. Delegates and party activists from across the country had the opportunity to ask him questions on a range of rural issues from the future farm support and rural crime, to problems with firearms licensing. With so many issues on the agenda in Defra, our event was an opportunity for people to question the Secretary of State on the priorities of his Department and record of delivery for the countryside.”
A recording of the event can be found on the Countryside Alliance Facebook page.