Shadow DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn has hit out at Tory claims that Labour neglected the countryside during its 13 years in power.

Mr Benn was responding to DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman, who used the Conservative Party Conference to accuse Labour of letting down farmers.

“The fact is Labour has run our rural areas down,” Mrs Spelman told conference delegates in Birmingham.

But Mr Benn gave her words short shrift.

“Caroline Spelman seems to have left the facts behind in her London office,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“At the moment her department talks tough, but we see little action and no vision for rural Britain at all.”

Mrs Spelman had suggested Labour left the farming industry ill-prepared for a 70% increase in global demand for food over the next 40 years.

But Mr Benn said: “It was Labour who put food and farming at the heart of our economy with the first food strategy in 60 years.”

“It was Labour who set up plans for a supermarket ombudsman.”

Mrs Spelman also accused Labour of neglecting rural services, including the loss of post offices, public transport and poor broadband.

“Labour left a legacy where both farmers and rural businesses have no access to the internet.

“And not just them, but a whole generation of children disadvantaged simply because they can’t log on.”

But Mr Benn said: “In the last decade, crime in rural areas fell and new businesses started up.

“Labour also had a plan to get high-speed broadband rolled out across Britain.”