19 June 2001
Beckett out to quash anti-rural image

By FWi staff

NEW Secretary of State Margaret Beckett says one of her key aims is to counter claims that the Labour government is against the countryside.

The head of the new Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the debate had been coloured by pro-hunt supporters.

Speaking to the The Times Mrs Beckett said anti-countryside claims were “pretty extraordinary” considering government investment in rural areas.

Farming, rural transport and the economy had all benefitted from government help, said the Secretary of State.

DEFRA which brings farming together with food, rural development, animal welfare, wildlife and environmental policy, marks a bold step, said Mrs Beckett.

It made a lot of sense to view the countryside development in the context of sustainable development and the food chain, she said.

Mrs Beckett is setting up an independent commission to advise on how to create a sustainable farming and food sector in a thriving rural economy.

There will also be investigations into looking at proposals to prevent animal disease outbreaks and another looking at the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

Farmers representatives have been concerned that farming would be downgraded in the in the new department.

But The Times says that Mrs Beckett will be one of the more senior ministers to represent Britain at the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers.

The council meets in Luxembourg, on Tuesday (19 June).

Meanwhile, Colin Breed, who was dropped from the Lib Dem “Shadow Cabinet” retains his role as farming spokesman in a front bench reshuffle.

But this is a junior member of the team shadowing DEFRA, reports The Times.

David Heath, former junior spokesman on farming, becomes a spokesman on work.

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