16 May 2001
Labour’s ‘unanswered rural questions’

By Johann Tasker

FARMERS and rural businesses are digesting Labours pledge to replace the Ministry of Agriculture with a Department of Rural Affairs.

The National Farmers Union said many questions were left unanswered by the pledge for a rural affairs ministry contained in Labours election manifesto.

NFU deputy president Tim Bennett said much more detail was needed about the proposed new department before the union could respond fully.

But the lessons of foot-and-mouth disease must be learned and the integration of agricultural and environmental policies must not be undermined, he added.

The new department must pass “two crucial tests” of continued integration in the food chain and providing Cabinet-level representation in Europe, he added.

Mr Bennett continued: “Labour has made much play of the value and importance of joined-up government.

“It would be perverse, then, to carry out a reform of governmental machinery which dispersed and dissipated the essential links in the food chain.”

A more welcoming response was given by the Country Land and Business Association, which represents some 50,000 rural businesses.

This is something we have been campaigning for some time,” said CLA director of communications Lindy Margach.

She added: “We are delighted that it is a manifesto commitment.”

The foot-and-mouth crisis had quite clearly the interrelationship and interdependence of all rural businesses, said Ms Margach.

“We will be looking at the details but we believe there is a real need for a joined-up policy from one ministry to help rural businesses recover.”

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