This is my reply to 5 key questions asked by the Countryside Alliance in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
1. Do you support the Government’s commitment to a broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) with the ambition to give people the legal right to request a connection to broadband with speeds of 10 Mbit/s, no matter where they live?
HM Government closed its Broadband Universal Service Obligation (BUSO) public consultation in March this year and on 17th May, published its responses. My views are therefore based on those responses.
Yes, I do agree that there should be a government commitment to a BUSO with the legal right to request connection wherever a user may live. I want to make clear that the absence of such connectivity currently applies to some urban areas as well as hard-to-reach rural areas, so this is not exclusively a countryside matter. For instance in parts of South London, access is extremely limited and very poor speeds are experienced in large chunks of densely-populated urban areas such as Rotherhithe and Bermondsey.
I note that several pieces of EU legislation underpin current arrangements and I would propose that we keep the thrust of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive which requires existing operators to permit their infrastructure fixed assets to be shared by new providers (such as ducts and poles). However the EU Universal Services Directive is not sufficient to provide for the modern high-speed broadband age I want for Britain, and our legislation to introduce a BUSO should specify minimum service requirements and specifications, such as speed.
I know HM Government has asked Ofcom to report back on the 10Mbps speed and I think it should be the benchmark, but let’s ensure we build in capacity to go faster than this for the future as this means of communication is only going to become more used and carry ever-larger amounts of data. I agree with the current thinking that 10Mbps should be a benchmark
2. Do you agree that current levels of European Union funding available to UK agriculture under the Common Agricultural Policy should be maintained until at least 2020?
My uppermost concern is that we will not have left the European Union by 2020 and if not, your question would become otiose, as CAP payments would continue to roll in. Clearly, until we do Brexit, CAP carries on, albeit regrettably. Once we are free from CAP then let me be clear; payments under that regime will cease.
I support UKIP’s costed and agreed policy for when we do withdraw from CAP. We will introduce a modified nationwide Single Farm Payment (SFP) scheme at set rates depending on the nature of the land, and conformity to the 2013 Entry Level Stewardship requirements. UKIP’s SFP scheme will be payable to whoever takes financial responsibility for the farming enterprise on a field-by-field basis i.e. the farmer, not the landowner.
Fuller details of our policy are set out in our 2015 General Election full manifesto (page 47). This covers dairy and sheep farmers as well.
I am in favour of re-distributing these public money payments away from wealthy landowners and large intensively farmed holdings in favour of smaller food producers and family farms.
My post-Brexit review of our 2015 policies will allow for discussion of new thinking on this subject.
3. Do you agree that there needs to be more incentives for landowners to make land available for affordable housing in rural communities as part of measures to tackle the housing crisis in rural areas?
Yes, many landowners are sitting on unused and vacant land. Some even have planning permission to build homes on but are not doing so. Therefore it is common sense to encourage this land to be developed for affordable housing. I support a thriving and viable rural Britain and that must provide provision and protection of housing to include supporting the current statutory exclusion of Right to Buy Rural housing association stock to preserve housing stock for future generations.
Nevertheless, I want to protect our countryside from the ravages of urban development. I am against allowing the countryside to be swamped with over-development. I believe that our countryside must be preserved so it can be enjoyed by future generations. I want to introduce new planning guidelines that will prioritise brownfield sites for new housing and genuinely protect the green belt.
Ultimately the unsustainable bubble in the housing market will be eased by Brexit. Upon the imposition of strict immigration controls we will see a return to regular norms in the population and therefore more moderate levels of demand and the price of housing.
4. Can you assure the 650,000 holders of shotgun and firearms certificates in this country that you support lawful shooting?
5. Do you support repeal of the Hunting Act 2004?
We have provided for this through our agenda for local democracy. If a trigger of 5% of the electors in any one area sufficiently big enough to contain a fox hunt, requested that a traditional fox hunt be restored, then a local referendum should be held and the outcome be binding on that area. That way, if there is a groundswell of support through local referenda for fox hunts in certain areas, then they will start to come back and the Hunting Act 2004 will wither away and can eventually shuffle off.
The reason I do not want to go for out-and-out repeal of the ban in a UKIP-influenced parliament just yet, is that until the West Lothian question is firmly resolved and no Scottish MPs could vote on this issue in England, then I would hesitate to re-embark on what was for Blair a long drawn out and costly process instituting the 2004 Act. Instead I would push through UKIP’s localism agenda and people would be free to try and re-establish fox-hunting in their localities.
Above all, I would give MPs a free vote.
On a different note I am deeply concerned that our great horse and pony breeds face extinction including the Suffolk Punch and Welsh Mountain Pony .I would ensure protection of our great livestock breeds.
6. Do you agree that people who undertake lawful activities in the countryside, should be able to do so without interference, and without facing intimidation?
Without knowing what specific activities, interferences and intimidation you allude to (trolling, demonstrations, protest marches?), I am not sure how to answer this, other than to say that of course all lawful conduct is permissible and there should be no hindrance to it. If that hindrance is unlawful it should not be allowed. I would have thought intimidation and interference might very well constitute unlawful behaviour but I would need to know the specifics before giving a more categorical answer.