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Lords Diary: Baroness Rock

Downing street: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy sample the produce at a pop-up festive market | Alamy

Baroness Rock

Baroness Rock

4 min read

From glass blowing and cheese sampling in a Downing Street festive market, to the importance of improving rural broadband and reforming the tenanted farming sector, Baroness Rock has a busy week

Downing Street has been transformed into a festive street market to showcase the best of British businesses across the United Kingdom. It is a freezing cold day and we are all wrapped up in coats and scarfs. The Prime Minister and his wife get into the festive spirit and spend considerable time touring the stalls and sampling some of the great British produce on show. They meet SamosaCo, based in Cardiff, who sell across the UK and export to the Netherlands, Spain, and Singapore. They also visit Birchall Tea, which is one of the largest exporters of East African tea in the world. I confess that my favourite is Wensleydale which exports its cheese to 16 countries. I sample every piece of cheese on the stall. The Chancellor arrives and dons dark glasses to have an impressive go at glass blowing.

Broadband Britain? I have been away from home a lot as I have been chairing an independent review for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) into the state of agricultural tenancies in England. Watching the patchwork mosaic of landscapes go by as I travel the length and breadth of the country by our wonderful train network reminds me how lucky we are to have such a diverse set of ecosystems and farming land. Each one looks slightly different and, if you are a farmer like me, there’s nothing better than peeking over the hedge to see what other farmers are doing! I have travelled from Dorset, Devon and Derbyshire to Norfolk, Northumberland and North Yorkshire. And time and time again I have heard that poor connectivity has far-reaching consequences for our rural communities, economies and for rural businesses. Our nation’s farmers are more likely to invest and expand if they have better access to superfast broadband to meet the needs of modern, sustainable and viable food and farming businesses. The Prime Minister’s announcement to continue the aim of bringing gigabit broadband to rural communities is therefore welcome news.

Farmers are more likely to invest and expand if they have better access to superfast broadband

Alongside the roll out of gigabit broadband, we need to ensure that the UK has a sufficiently skilled workforce across both urban and rural areas. As a member of the Lords Science and Technology Committee I have a final meeting to discuss our forthcoming report into people and skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Is the UK on the path to being a science and technology superpower?

Into Defra to meet with minister Mark Spencer about the Rock Review. The Home Secretary is giving a speech in the main foyer as I arrive, so I meander through various back corridors and passages. It takes at least 15 minutes to get to the minister’s office and I don’t want to be embarrassingly late. He is very forgiving as I arrive slightly out of breath having run up many flights of stairs. It is easy to forget that the Home Office, Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities and Defra all connect in the rabbit warren that is Marsham Street.

A conversation with a colleague in the House of Lords as we wait to vote about how important it is to meet people directly affected by policy decisions. It is vital to cut through the issues raised by those who shout loudest and seek the views of the silent majority who, for the most part, are voices of reason. I am reminded of touring the farms of England seeking out those voices and bringing them into the light – an exercise I would recommend to all who want to understand a nation as diverse, interwoven, and valuable as its landscapes.

Baroness Rock is a Conservative peer and chair of the Rock Review into the agricultural tenanted sector

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