3 August 2001

Anger at DEFRA snub

GAME Fair organisers, the Country Land and Business Association, reacted angrily to DEFRAs decision to snub the only major rural event to be held this year.

"I am surprised and disappointed that neither Margaret Beckett nor any other government minister saw fit to attend this years game fair, despite receiving invitations months ago," said CLA deputy president Sir Edward Greenwell.

It was a lost chance for ministers to hear first-hand about the concerns of country people and recognise the contribution country sports make to the rural economy. "Country sports and leisure activities generate millions of £s for rural Britain and help maintain a viable countryside," he said.

Lack of ministerial attendance was also slammed by the director of the Countryside Alliance, Richard Burge. "Although I believe the muck-up theory rather than conspiracy, I share the concerns that no government minister has taken the trouble to attend the only major rural event this year." Events such as the game fair played a pivotal role in country life, he added. "They make all the difference for some rural people between just eking out an existence and leading an enjoyable life."

Conservative farm spokesman, James Paice, MP for Cambridge South East, said: "Margaret Becketts absence from the Game Fair is a stunning indictment of this governments ignorance and arrogance about farming and rural issues."

Mr Paice also feared Mrs Becketts five-week office absence revealed the governments true attitude towards the countryside as the fight against foot-and-mouth enters a critical phase.

"If Margaret Beckett is not due to work in her office until September, that shows the contempt in which it holds the farming industry."

A DEFRA spokeswoman confirmed that Mrs Beckett would be away until September, but added: "There will be duty minister and if anything needs her attention she can be contacted." &#42