By Isabel Davies
LETTERS from farmers have already started to arrive at Peter Ainsworths constituency home in East Surrey. If the new Shadow environment, food and rural affairs minister had hoped to ease himself gently into the job then he has had to think again.
But speaking to farmers weekly the former Opposition spokesman on culture, media and sport claimed he is looking forward to the challenge. As the man who pushed a controversial Hedgerow Bill through Parliament in 1995 he says the subject area is not new territory.
"Its a big change but not a radical departure from things I have been interested in before. I made my maiden speech in 1992 on the environment and the countryside…and its something I feel very passionately about," he said.
Making sure the government does not let up in its fight against foot-and-mouth disease will be one of his priorities but he will also be urging ministers to keep looking beyond F&M.
"Its not good enough simply to look at immediate problems, for example at what might happen this autumn. Its also not good enough to look at recovery programmes that will return us to where we were before F&M," he said.
"A major package of measures and ideas to create a vibrant economic life in the countryside is urgently needed to make people who work in rural areas feel they have a purpose and a future and create an environment the rest of the nation can enjoy."
Although he will continue the Tory fight for a public inquiry into F&M, better labelling and action on illegal meat imports, Mr Ainsworth said he hopes to develop other policies with his deputy Ann Winterton. Mrs Winterton, who is former joint master of South Staffordshire Hunt, will take day-to-day responsibility for agricultural issues.
An area they could take a hard look at is the issue of GM crop trials. "There are too many questions about them at the moment for me to rest easy. I do have an instinctive concern about meddling with nature," he said.
In the coming weeks he plans to meet with key industry figures. Earlier this week he had a meeting with NFU president Ben Gill. Yesterday (Thur), he toured an arable farm to examine how environmental practices were being adopted.
Mr Ainsworth believes imaginative thinking is the key to turning the fortunes of the industry around. "Weve reached the time now, after a series of crises where British farmers have been through hell, where we have a duty as well as an opportunity for some radical thinking about what goes on in the countryside." *
PETER AINSWORTH MP
• Elected as MP for East Surrey in April 1992, taking over seat from Geoffrey Howe.
• Served as member of the select committee on the environment 1993-1994.
• Parliamentary private secretary to former jailbird and MP Jonathan Aitken 1994-1995.
• Served as assistant whip and as Opposition deputy chief whip, 1996-97.
• Member of Shadow Cabinet since 1998.
• Voted Country Life Country MP of the Year 1994 and Green Magazine Campaigning MP of the Year 1994.
• Former joint secretary of the All Party Conservation Group.
• Worked as an investment analyst for city stockbroker firm from 1981-1992.
• Married to Clare with one son and two daughters.
• If you want to contact Mr Ainsworth write to: Peter Ainsworth Esq MP, House of Commons, London, SW1 0AA.