29 August 1997

Countryside will figure in revised MAFF

RURAL development and countryside agencies are likely to be placed within a revised agricultural department as part of the governments ministerial review, according to farming organisations.

With MAFF certain to lose its food safety responsibilities to the independent food agency, farm organisations expect groups like the Rural Development Commission, Countryside Commission and Forestry Authority to be switched from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The future of MAFFs name is also under review, and speculation is growing that it will be renamed along the lines of the department of countryside and agriculture to fit in with its different responsibilities.

Tony Bailey, Country Landowners Association senior policy adviser, said it was important for the revised agricultural ministry to take control of rural regional development, particularly in the light of the likely establishment of the Welsh assembly and the Scottish parliament.

Rural development

Claire Jarvis, NFU parliamentary adviser, said she could see MAFF becoming the department of agriculture and rural development, saying that would fall in line with the increasing emphasis shown by the EU Commission on rural development.

Although the NFU would like to see the status quo being maintained, Ms Jarvis said that it was vital that agriculture was not swallowed up by the environment department.

"The agri-food sector is a huge industry and it is essential we keep a cabinet ranking minister. While accepting that food safety will be taken away, we hope this will restore consumer confidence in MAFF."

Reg Haydon, Tenant Farmers Association chairman, said he did not expect to see MAFF downgraded, especially as farm minister, Jack Cunningham, had insisted on moving part of MAFF into top civil servant accommodation at Nobel House.

Mr Haydon expected the department to be renamed as the ministry of agriculture, forestry and the environment, although he also felt the status quo could be maintained. &#42