Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Democracy evening at the Neath Constitutional Club

These are the opening remarks I hope to make tonight:

First, I would like to thank Matthew Tucker and the Neath YFC for arranging this democracy evening. It’s good to know that the old-fashioned hustings is not dead in the age of social media.

As a Blaenhonddan community councillor a few years ago I recall the YFC’s volunteering to assist us with our efforts in the environment. We weren’t able to arrange anything on that occasion but we were grateful for the offer. Perhaps something has come of the initiative since.

I suspect that as a town-dweller whose expertise is computing, I shall be learning more than informing tonight especially when it comes to question time. I do enjoy walking in the countryside though, and I would make a plea to landowners here not to restrict access unreasonably. The people who abuse the right to roam are a small minority and can be dealt with.

My personal knowledge may be limited, but my party has strong links to farming. Our leader is married to a farmer, and another Liberal Democrat AM, Bill Powell, lives on the family farm. So we have good farming credentials. We have also consistently supported devolution. One of the advantages of devolution is that while the present government in Cardiff has messed around with Glastir, introducing in our opinion unfairness in the system and leading to a backlog of as I understand it around a thousand claims, this is as nothing compared to the foul-up of EU farm payments in England.

Our manifesto makes a strong commitment to agriculture which we recognise as essential, a major contributor to the Welsh economy and the backbone of rural communities. We believe that the natural environment is best cared for by a continuation of farming tailored to the needs of individual areas, including their environmental needs. We are concerned about the rise in the average age of farmers and the fall in average farm incomes.

Support for farmers should continue to be given to all farmers in an equitable way so as to maintain the balance between small and large, upland and lowland. The maintenance of food security should be central to any agricultural decisions made in Wales and that such decisions should always consider their long term impact on Wales' ability to continue to feed itself.

The manifesto commits to several policy initiatives to safeguard agriculture and food production across Wales and especially to embed food production using suitable systems into all environmental decision making in rural Wales. In view of the restrictions on time I’ll cut the statistics and most of the detailed policy points. What may be of particular interest here today is our call to review TAN 6 guidance on ‘Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities’ so as to achieve real progress in the delivery of affordable rural housing across Wales, important both for younger entrants as well as providing appropriate accommodation for farmers wishing to handover to the next generation.
The incoming Welsh government needs to develop further support for young farming entrants in Wales with an emphasis on the potential contribution of share farming and the significance of local authority owned agricultural holdings across Wales to provide access to the land.

I’m sure we will come on to EU membership later in discussion so I shall close at this point.

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