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CW88 – Reconciliation: Parliamentary column

By Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Crossbench peer and former chair of NFU Mutual

What a problem it was deciding where to go on holiday this year. ‘Let’s go to Portugal or Iceland because they are on the green list. Oh dear, they have now been changed to amber so we have to quarantine when we return! Why don’t we find a staycation somewhere in the UK instead?’

A staycation! We used to search for a B&B, or a cottage, or a campsite, or a nice little hotel in the Lake District or Devon, but now it’s a staycation – whatever that is! Isn’t it remarkable how new words and phrases become embedded in our vocabulary.

This has been a particular feature of the pandemic. We now talk very glibly about ‘self-isolation’ and ‘social distancing’, phrases never used until 2020. How heartbreaking it has been for so many families when loved ones have died in a care home or a hospital bed, alone. Another distressing aspect has been coping with separation. Separation from family and friends, and worst of all, unable to enjoy much needed hugs.

‘Levelling up’ is another new phrase and is now an important Government policy, but it is a complex issue given the North – South divide and the Government’s efforts concentrated on the, so called, ‘red wall’ parliamentary constituencies.
Sadly, similar divisions exists between rural and urban so if you live in the rural north, as I do, we have a double ‘levelling up’ whammy to be addressed.

I was a member of the House of Lords’ Rural Economy Committee whose report in 2020 included the need to ‘rural proof’ Government policies to ensure they consider rural communities. Government accepted this, but rejected the recommendation to produce a ‘rural strategy.’ Too often in the past policies have been drafted by those who live in cities with no knowledge of the countryside and those who live in it.

Lots of new bills are progressing through Parliament, having left the EU, such as the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill, the Environment Bill and the Skills Bill. All will impact the countryside, in particular the way farming will be encouraged to deliver ‘public goods’ through the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme, replacing direct support farmers have received since 1947. It is essential that family farms are given sound advice on how to benefit from this change to survive and, hopefully, prosper.

Many people living in the countryside felt ‘socially distanced’ from their urban cousins long before Covid so the challenge is not new! Indeed, there are lots of biblical examples of social divisions – rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. In the story Jesus told of the Good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10, ‘the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans’ but that social gap was resolved in that instance by a ‘good’ and generous person who cared. Stating we care about rural issues and recognising the concerns about ‘levelling up’, about ‘social isolation’ has to be demonstrated by action on ‘rural proofing’ to ensure rural communities and rural business do enjoy ‘shared prosperity’.

Jesus set the perfect example, of course, through His humility and loving care, and ultimately through His reconciling sacrifice. He gave His disciples and us the personal instruction to ‘follow me.’


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