Election 2019: Candidates quizzed at rural hustings

Candidates from across the political spectrum joined a “rural hustings” for the Arundel and South Downs constituency at Brinsbury College, West Sussex to set out their policies ahead of the general election.

See also: What the main political parties plan for farming

rom the left - Robert Wheal, Isabel Thurston, Bella Sanky, Caroline Harriott (chairwoman), Andrew Griffith, Alison Bennett

rom the left – Robert Wheal, Isabel Thurston, Bella Sanky, Caroline Harriott (chairwoman), Andrew Griffith and Alison Bennett

The candidates

  • Andrew Griffith (Conservative)
  • Alison Bennett (Lib Dem)
  • Bella Sankey (Labour)
  • Isabel Thurston (Green)
  • Robert Wheal (Independent)

Q. Will your party support the continuation of the badger cull as part of an effective TB policy?

AG (Con) I support the badger cull as the “least worst” alternative. It’s regrettable. No farmer likes to kill another animal, but there isn’t another effective remedy at the moment.

We need to be science-led, even though we live in a world that is more emotionally led.

AB (Lib Dem) We do support culling, but only as a last resort. Our preferred route would be to look at vaccinating badgers, but that’s not always that practical.

We’d also invest to find a decent vaccine for cattle. We were supportive of culling when we were in coalition (with the Conservatives), but when, in the first round of culling, there were questions about the standards of shooting, we pushed to ensure those standards were improved.

BS (Lab) Labour is opposed to a badger cull. We are an evidence-led party and we believe the impact of culling is limited.

Q. What would your policy be on travellers in the area?

AG (Con) The Conservatives have three clear aims. We will make intention to trespass a criminal offence. We will reduce the number of vehicles on a site from six to two before you can make an intervention.

And we will take into account, when dispersing traveller sites, the availability of places in other neighbouring district councils.

AB (Lib Dem) There is good work between county councils, district councils and the police to mitigate the impact of incursions. This includes the development of a traveller site in West Sussex.

We should do more of this, to give travellers more options than going on to private property – helped by more funding going into local government.

BS (Lab) It’s very important when discussing crime and different ethnic groups that we don’t conflate the two or exacerbate the stigmatisation of particular communities.

Labour’s policy is about drawing in people that are disenfranchised, that may be disadvantaged, and trying to provide a level playing field so that crime doesn’t become the only option.

Q. Is too much emphasis being put on environmental policy at the expense of food production?

AG (Con) Farmers have been stewards of the environment for generations, yet half the time, farming feels like it is the villain of the piece.

I think it is smart to extend Feed-in Tariffs and the Renewable Heat Incentive. Our National Food Strategy will lay out what we are going to do.

AB (Lib Dem) All politicians need to keep in mind that the core purpose of farming is food production.

The Lib Dems have clear policies for tackling climate change and within that, subsidies will move towards environmental measures among the public goods that need to be provided by the farming community. But it has to go hand in hand with making sure food is produced.

BS (Lab) We support the NFU’s target of farming being carbon neutral by 2040.

To do that, we would be bringing forward a massive programme of public investment, including subsidies for renewables, rewilding and a detailed programme of support for farming to achieve sustainability.

IT (Green) We are putting the climate emergency at the very top of our agenda. We need to get to a zero-carbon economy as early as possible.

But while we will be cutting our emissions, we will be supporting the people we are asking to help us do that. All subsidies would be for helping farmers move across to sustainable methods, such as agro-forestry.

RW (Ind) There is momentum for the environment, much of which I agree with. But we have to get it back into balance, otherwise we will ruin our farming community and rural economy.

If we don’t look after our farmers, we live at the mercy of foreign food coming into this country.

Q. How will you prevent substandard imports coming in post Brexit?

AG (Con) We will take back control of our borders, our food standards and our animal welfare, so that we can prevent, for example, wheat that has been grown overseas using neonicotinoids that we can’t use ourselves.

We have a commitment to maintain a level playing field with food standards.

AB (Lib Dem) The Lib Dems want to stay in the European Union, and if that was the case, then we would be able to work within the current standards and we would not be going out with a begging bowl to the US, looking for a rubbish deal that will allow low-standard food into the UK. 

BS (Lab) Labour’s policy is for a people’s vote, as people were not fully informed at the time, and many people’s views have changed.

If we do stay in the EU, we would seek to improve and reform EU law from within, though standards are already higher than in many parts of the world.

By “taking back control”, no guarantees can be given about the trade deals that will subsequently be done after a hard Brexit, when we will be in a very poor negotiating position.

IT (Green) We have to oppose cosying up to Trump. He is doing great damage in the world. We don’t want cheap food from America – it’s bad for the environment. 

RW (Ind) We live in a free-trading world and if you look at the 160 countries that trade freely under WTO rules, they don’t have any restrictions.

Yes, we have to have minimal food safety standards for imports, but how far that goes, the market will decide. It’s up to you to produce food that people want to buy.

If people want to buy a rubbish piece of meat, so long as it meets minimum health standards, they can.

Q. How will we get the labour we need once we have left the EU? 

AG (Con) The points-based system that we will introduce will be a way of reconciling supply and demand. The NFU will be a big stakeholder in it.

There are no set targets to reduce labour supply, but to meet the economy’s needs.

AB (Lib Dem) We want to stay in the EU and preserve freedom of movement. It’s not just about pickers of fruit and vegetable. A lot of vets also come from the EU.

BS (Lab) Labour is pro free movement, either within the EU or within the single market. We also believe in affordable housing and transport to help the labour that is already here.

RW (Ind) I’m not for open immigration, but where we need people, they should be permitted to come here, so long as you can demonstrate you can’t find anybody here.

But we have to start training our own people and start paying them enough money. To do that, we have to pay more for our food.

Q. How can you improve the National Parks to make running a business easier?

AG (Con) We need to distinguish between “top-down policy” and “local implementation”. We need to make the food economy work and diversification possible.

I’m on the side of making agriculture pay, while delivering good outcomes for people.

AB (Lib Dem) A National Park should not just preserve its territory in aspic. It has to be able to create a dynamic economy and communities that develop and change over time, without ruining it.

There must be a dynamic capacity for planning.

RW (Ind) I’ve been opposed to National Parks from the start. It’s a quango we can do without.

We already have parish councils, town councils, district councils, county councils – it’ just another layer of government and they’re not even elected. I would fight to get it stood down. That would help farmers.

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