In this week's column for the Herald and Post I thought I’d cover a few of the other issues that were discussed at my public meeting in Liss, but that I ran out of column space to write about last week.
An issue that is always raised, unsurprisingly so given our rural location, is farming. This is very topical in Parliament at the moment with both the ‘Fairness to Farmers’ petition on Parliament’s website and last week’s debate in Westminster Hall. With farmland covering two thirds of East Hampshire, this is such a critical issue for us and one I welcome parliamentary scrutiny of.
The individual asking the question at the meeting was right to highlight unfairness in the supply chain. I totally agree that our priority must be ensuring that our farmers get a fair price for everything they produce, which in turn will secure the long term future of food production in this country.
I know that Defra launched a review last year off the back of the Prime Minister’s ‘Farm to Fork’ summit in May to look at precisely this issue, with the input of the farmers themselves. The review closes next month so I will be watching with interest to see what recommendations are made and what it will mean for our local farmers.
An impassioned plea was also made to get the Pet Abduction Bill on the statute books. This is a Private Members’ Bill, led by my colleague Anna Firth MP, which is currently going through Parliament (it had its second reading the day after the public meeting).
To give you some background, currently pet thefts are dealt with under the Theft Act 1968, with pets classed as ‘property’ for the purpose of the legislation. This new legislation would create two specific offences of dog and cat theft and would carry a maximum five year prison sentence.
As pet ownership grew exponentially during the pandemic, sadly pet theft appeared to do the same. This has necessitated websites such as Doglost, a lost and found pet database, which aims to reunite stolen dogs with their owners by trawling ‘pets for sale’ sites on social media. These sites tend to be the go-to marketing platform for those unscrupulous individuals who steal a family pet and then attempt to profit from it.
I look forward to seeing the progress of the Bill and I very much hope that, when it is enacted, the maximum sentence will be deterrent enough to stop pet thieves in their tracks.
One of the last questions of the night asked me what I can do about the scourge of misinformation. I think we could easily have spent another couple of hours discussing this! It’s a topic I’ve written about in this column before including in the context of the pandemic, but it goes much wider than that. An example that sticks in the mind is the misinformation surrounding the MMR vaccine in the late 1990s, which has played a part in the measles outbreak we have seen of late.
There is a range. From things that are mistakenly said but get accidentally amplified on social media via likes and shares. To disinformation deliberately planted or propagated by bad actors – even states – who seek to undermine or confuse or exacerbate division.
This is one of the greatest challenges we face and unfortunately not one where there are any easy answers. Nevertheless, it is set to be a subject of growing importance in public policy and debate.