A few days ago in Parliament there were two debates that took place in the Westminster Hall, both of which have a very strong impact on Sussex. I am aware that one of the challenges in that location is that the number of people who can participate is more modest compared to the space in the main Parliamentary Chamber. That of course means that often there are very few local MPs which can be very disappointing but it does not make the subjects less relevant and indeed on many occasions I wish that Westminster Hall would be treated as having the same priority as the Chamber. The debates last Wednesday that I spotted began with a session on the heading of Back British Farming Day and we can be grateful that one of the MPs who participated was from our Sussex region. The fact is that even here in Brighton and Hove there are many acres of land that includes farming involvement so this indicates that all sixteen of our Sussex MPs should have participated in that debate. However, we can applaud Sally-Ann Hart for taking part even though her contribution was very modest and only involved one sentence, but those few words clearly apply to all of our areas. She asked if
the Agriculture Act works in tandem with the Environment Bill, and that that will help my local farmers in Hastings and Rye not only to thrive but to increase productivity and thereby food security in the UK?
It would have been wonderful if she could have referred to all of the Sussex farmers even though she represents a specific constituency. Perhaps if she had returned to the Hall for another debate that took place towards the end of the same day, she may well have reflected on the need to review the words in her future questions. In reality that will be the case for a number of other Sussex MPs. The other debate took place at the end of the day and it was called Levelling-up Agenda and it involved a number of people but sadly no one from Sussex. Despite this it included a Government Minister called Kemi Badenoch who is the Minister for Equalities and one of her comments was
We have also talked about taking a more flexible approach to devolution in England. I know that Richard Thomson is requesting far, far more, but I am afraid that is not something we will grant at this time. We do want to do devolution better, rewriting the rulebook and giving new deals for counties, so that the people who know their communities best can do the best for them.
One can imagine that Richard Thomson who is an SNP MP will be very frustrated following that comment but inevitably his colleagues and the people in his constituency and across the whole of the Scottish region are of course far further forward than the other parts of the English area when it comes to devolution. We know that Scotland is further ahead of Northern Ireland which is further ahead than Wales. On the same basis here in England, London is further ahead than Manchester and they are both further ahead than Liverpool or Bristol. However, based on the information that has also just emerged from the Local Government in their Chronicle, the other English regions vary a great deal more than the difference between say London and Liverpool. The Local Government map differentiates between Kent, Surrey and Sussex but they do treat Sussex as one combined location including East and West Sussex and Brighton and Hove. Sadly, apart from Surrey which is treated as being in the “Devolution talks sought” layer, both Sussex and Kent (including Medway) are not even one step behind which is “Reorganisation mooted”. Here in Sussex and next door in Kent the phase we are in is described as “Little obvious happening” which clearly needs our communities to call for an upgrade. There are no lower levels than little happening. According to the Chronicle, Surrey has submitted an interest to ministers
working up a detailed submission for discussion with the districts and boroughs and then hoping to engage with government during September if we are chosen as a pilot authority.
Bizarrely the same document reflects that the Government views that some counties are
too small to sustain devolution on their own.
Given that Surrey is smaller than Sussex and Kent is larger than Sussex, there can be no reasonable barrier for Kent or Sussex to move toward devolution. Perhaps we should end this reflection on devolution with some of the words from the first debate.
Fruit and vegetables are the staple of our diets…. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of good, sustainable, local food supply chains.