Conservative Diary

Rural affairs

27 Jan 2011 13:05:44

Caroline Spelman promises to protect public access rights when the state relinquishes control of England's forests

By Jonathan Isaby

SPELMAN CAROLINE NW Today Enviornment Secretary Caroline Spelman has published her department's consultation document on the future of England's state-controlled forests (which account for less than a fifth of England's woodlands).

It comes on the back of a campaign already being waged by Rachel Johnson and a band of well known names - with the support of the Sunday Telegraph under the banner of Save England's Forests, as ConHome noted at the weekend.

The Government is proposing a mixed model approach to future forest ownership with several elements:

  • Inviting new or existing charitable organisations, to take on ownership or management of the heritage forests to secure  their public benefits for the long-term future; 
  • Creating opportunities for community and civil society groups to buy or lease forests that they wish to own or manage; 
  • Finding commercial operators to take on long-term leases for the large-scale commercially valuable forests.

As she emphasised in her Times (£) article this morning, Mrs Spelman is adamant that people's access to the forests and ability to enjoy them as they do now must not be hindred by any changes in ownership. She says:

“We will make sure that public access is maintained and biodiversity protected. The government is absolutely committed to the ongoing provision and protection of the public benefits provided by the public forest estate, and the consultation shows how we intend to achieve this. We will bring forward amendments to the Public Bodies Bill to create a strengthened framework to safeguard the natural and social capital our forests provide now and for future generations. This would apply to the powers of sale, lease and management of the public forest estate. The consultation proposes that conditions will be attached to leases so that access and other public benefits are protected.”

But in the 21st Century she insists that the maintaining the status quo is not an option:

“State control of forests dates back to the First World War, when needs were very different. There’s now no reason for the Government to be in the business of timber production and forest management. It’s time for the Government to step back and allow those who are most involved with England’s woodlands to play a much greater role in their future."

Below is Mrs Spelman's short video, launching the consultation.

26 Dec 2010 10:16:27

Vote on repeal of hunting ban unlikely before 2012

Tim Montgomerie

The Independent on Sunday reports that a vote on repealing the hunting ban is very unlikely in 2011 and may not even occur in 2012.

The Government does not want to appear distracted from the economic situation and nor does Downing Street want to give another impression that Conservative priorities are driving the Coalition. Most Liberal Democrats support the existing ban although there are some, including Nick Harvey, representing North Devon, who believe the current law is flawed.

Screen shot 2010-12-26 at 10.11.52
There is also now an organised group within the Conservative Party that opposes foxhunting and, furthermore, wants to keep the ban. Conservatives Against Fox Hunting define their mission on their website:

"Our Nation has a proud history of pioneering higher animal  welfare standards and an intolerance of unnecessary cruelty. We cannot be expected to influence other countries policies on whaling, bull fighting and big game trophy hunting etc if we are seen internationally, to overturn a ban  set in place to ban cruelty in hunting wild mammals with dogs."

Five new MPs asre among CAFH's supporters: Mike Weatherly, Simon Kirby, Richard Harrington, Caroline Dineage and Sarah Wollaston.

6 Dec 2010 08:32:23

Britain will have best broadband in Europe by 2015, promises Jeremy Hunt, in £830m investment

Tim Montgomerie

HUNT Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today publish "Britain's Superfast Broadband Future", an £830 million project to give Britain the best broadband network in Europe by 2015. "Fibre" upgrades, reports The Telegraph, "will allow internet service providers to routinely offer packages with speeds of up to 100 megabits per second".

Interviewed on Radio 4 (and inappropriately introduced by Jim Naughtie) Mr Hunt quoted a Nesta report which believes that "the provision of universal super-fast broadband could directly create 600,000 new jobs, with £18 billion added to GDP."

In a statement Mr Hunt said:

"A superfast network will be the foundation for a new economic dynamism, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and adding billions to our GDP. But it is not just about the economy, around the world there are countless examples of superfast broadband helping to build a fairer and more prosperous society, and to transform the relationship between Government and citizens."

Rather than leaving the investment to the private sector alone, the Coalition is getting involved because of the need to ensure full, fair and geographically equitable access. Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has said that the broadband plan is "probably the single most important thing we can do to ensure the sustainability of our rural communities in the 21st century".

12.15pm WATCH: Jeremy Hunt explains Coalition plans to invest in superfast broadband

23 Feb 2010 17:05:08

Nick Herbert launches Conservative policies for farming

HERBERT NICK NW Today the shadow environment, food and rural affairs secretary, Nick Herbert, and shadow farming minister, James Paice, are attending the NFU conference, where they have launched the party's "agenda for farming", covering a whole range of policies relating to agriculture..

The party has summed up its five key aims as:

  • Enabling increased production whilst protecting the environment;
  • Promoting fair competition;
  • Reducing the burden of regulation;
  • Further reforming the Common Agricultural Policy;
  • Taking action on animal disease.

The 18-page document contains two brand new proposals...

  • Introducing rules into the new national planning framework to prevent, in all but exceptional circumstances, the development of the most fertile farmland; and 
  • Fundamentally reforming the Rural Payments Agency by appointing the Farming Minister as chairman of its Management Board as  a way of improving accountability, reducing costs and driving up performance.

...and you can download it in its entirety here.
Launching the document, Mr Herbert accused Labour of having "persistently under-valued British agriculture":

"Despite its importance to our food security, the protection of our best farmland has been downgraded and the Government has over-ridden councils who have sought to keep in place local protection of this valuable asset. In this new age of agriculture, we need to strengthen the protection of our most fertile farmland and recognise its importance as a national resource for future generations."

Jonathan Isaby

5 Jan 2010 08:54:56

Nick Herbert pledges to support farmers and consumers against supermarkets which abuse their power

HERBERT NICK NW Shadow Defra Secretary Nick Herbert will today announce that a Conservative Government would create a supermarket ombudsman to prevent large retailers from abusing their market position to squeeze farmers' profit margins and act against consumers' interests.

It would be a unit within the office of Fair Trading and would be funded by a levy on the biggest supermarkets which have an annual turnover of more than £1 billion.

The announcement represents a hardening of the party's existing line, which was merely to support a soon-to-be-introduced code of practice for supermarkets.

The idea of an ombudsman has already been proposed by the Competition Commission, but the Government has so far dithered over whether or not to take it on board.

Mr Herbert will tell the Oxford Farming Conference:

"Supermarkets deliver real benefits but some aspects of the way they treat their suppliers can harm consumers as well as producers. We have a code of practice which outlaws practices such as retrospective discounting, but this isn't worth the paper it is written on without effective enforcement."

"We will introduce an ombudsman to curb abuses of power which undermine our farmers and act against the long-term interest of consumers. As the Competition Commission has made clear, failure to do so could result in reduced investment by suppliers, lower product quality, and less product choice, with potentially higher prices in the long run. It is time to act."

He will also repeat his pledge to introduce legislation "if the retailers won't act" to enforce honest food labelling which would allow consumers to know which produce is genuinely British.

Jonathan Isaby

30 Oct 2009 21:56:37

Labour to make retaining the hunting ban a "key plank in its election strategy"

Picture 14 With all else that's going on with which the Government ought to be concerning itself, believe it or not, this is the news carried in tomorrow's Times:

"Labour is to make the preservation of the hunting ban a key plank in its election strategy... Anti-hunt activists want to use the issue to shore up Labour’s core vote at the election and to protect the legislation.

"Hilary Benn, the Rural Affairs Secretary, has agreed to front Labour’s campaign against repeal. He has sent an e-mail to Labour Party members to tell “as many people as possible that a Conservative government would mean an end to the ban so many people worked so hard to introduce”.

"Mr Benn has sought to contrast the Government’s focus on tackling the recession with a Tory priority to repeal the hunting ban. Using emotive language, he said: “Make no mistake — David Cameron and members of his top team have made it very clear that their intention is to see the return of the cruel spectacle of foxes being torn to pieces in Britain’s countryside.”

Jonathan Isaby

> Labour bigged up the foxhunting issue during the Norwich North by-election

10 Aug 2009 14:46:40

Nick Herbert exposes how we have become more dependent on food imports under Labour

HERBERT NICK NWAfter some forensic research of the relevant statistics, Shadow Defra Seretary Nick Herbert has discovered and exposed how the country has become more dependent under Labour on foreign imports of food we could have produced ourselves. He has revealed how tens of thousands of hectares of land which was formerly used for growing produce has been lost and the number of animals being reared has also fallen dramatically.

Here are the facts he has ascertained:

  • The UK’s self-sufficiency in indigenous food has fallen from 82% in 1998 to 73% in 2008;
  • The UK trade gap in food, feed and drink has widened by 52% in real terms between 1998 and 2007 to £15.2 billion;
  • Over 36,000 hectares of planted land for vegetables has been lost under Labour, falling from 153,000 when they took office to 116,000 in 2008;
  • Over the same period, the area of land for producing fresh fruit has fallen from 36,000 hectares to 28,000 hectares;
  • The number of dairy cows has fallen from 2,453,000 to 1,909,000;
  • The number of beef cows has fallen from 1,911,000 to 1,670,000;
  • The number of pigs has fallen from 7,834,000 to 4,714,000;
  • The sheep and lamb flock has fallen from 43,983,000 to 33,131,000;
  • The number of poultry kept has fallen from 169,901,000 to 166,200,000;
  • The area of land for cereals has fallen from 3,358,000 to 3,274,000.

 Mr Herbert made the following conclusions about his findings:

“The Government previously claimed that it was unnecessary to increase domestic food production, and under Labour Britain has become increasingly dependent on imports of food we could grow ourselves. It should be a strategic priority of government to increase self-sufficiency in food, yet the Government are refusing to take the steps to make this happen.  They have increased the regulatory burden on British farmers; government departments continue to ignore British producers and procure foreign food, and Ministers refuse to introduce honest food labelling to benefit consumers and help support our domestic production.”

Jonathan Isaby

20 Jun 2009 13:56:24

Hunting Act is bad law and bad laws should be repealed, says Hague

Hague European Elections The Horse and Hound has just online with a reaffirmation from Deputy Tory leader William Hague that a Conservative government will find time to repeal the Hunting Act:

"A Conservative government will give parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote and in government time. This has been our position and it will remain our position... The passage of the Hunting Act revealed that Labour MPs' respect for the views of minorities only extended to those minorities whose views they could readily agree with. The result was a piece of legislation so deeply prejudiced and so ridiculously unworkable that its existence weakens and discredits the laws of the land... This is a bad law and bad laws should be repealed, not ignored."

Mr Hague was addressing over 400 members of the Masters of Foxhounds Association and received a standing ovation for his promise.

Tim Montgomerie

> Seats and candidates: 119 of 120 Tory candidates in marginal seats support repeal of hunting ban

4 May 2009 16:25:54

Rural affairs

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