29 September 2000

CLA chairmans warning

IGNORING the concerns of rural people will cost the government seats when it comes to the election, farm and conservation groups have warned MPs at the Labour Party conference.

Speaking at the Country Landowners Associations fringe meeting, president Anthony Bosanquet told an audience which included farm ministers Nick Brown, Elliot Morley and Baroness Hayman that rural voters were concerned that the situation in the countryside was as serious now, as it was a year ago.

"Alarm bells are ringing across the countryside. Melt down in the hills is in prospect," he said. "In the dairy sector farmers are quitting in increasing numbers, while the governments own commitment to environmental management scheme appears to have gone cold. Payments for Countryside Stewardship have just been cut."

Sharing a platform with cabinet co-ordinator Mo Mowlam at a separate meeting, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Graham Wynne expressed a similar view.

There was a high number of marginal seats in rural areas and votes would hang upon how the different political parties tackled the countryside at the next election, he said.

The forthcoming Rural White Paper also came under scrutiny at both the meetings.

Mr Bosanquet told delegates that the government needed to make sure that any actions they took were based on an informed understanding of the countryside.

"I hope the Rural White Paper will show that the government has listened to the concerns of those who live and work in the countryside. If it reflects the views of those who live within the M25 it will not be well received in the countryside."