22 May 2000
Rural ministry plan abandoned?

By FWi staff

REPORTS that the ministry of agriculture will not be replaced by a department of rural affairs have been welcomed by farmers representatives.

It had been widely thought Tony Blair was determined bring rural matters under one roof in Whitehall, with a more integrated countryside policy.

But earlier this year the Prime Minister denied these rumours, and on Monday (22 May) The Daily Telegraph claimed the idea has been scrapped.

An NFU spokeswoman said it was imperative that farming should be represented at ministerial level at Westminster and in Europe.

If the reports were correct and this situation would continue “thats good news as far as were concerned”, she said.

Labour ministers have long claimed that MAFF champions the interests of farmers and neglects consumers.

Speculation mounted that change was afoot when MAFF permanent secretary Richard Packer quit his job at the end of last year.

Mr Packer, senior MAFF official during the BSE crisis, was deemed to be too close to farmers by critics.

It was thought that the new Ministry of Rural Affairs as part of the governments Rural White Paper later this year.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam, who now co-ordinates the cabinet committee on rural affairs, had been tipped to head the new department.

But Mr Blair poured cold water on these rumours in February when he insisted there were no plans to do this.

Mr Blair, according to The Telegraph, has been persuaded that a single ministry would not help but marginalise the countryside.

It reports that the government, which was stung by accusations that it is unsympathetic to the countryside, will attempt woo rural voters in different ways.

Measures to protect rural services such as post offices, and “rural-proofing” government policies, will feature in the White Paper, says the newspaper.

Only last week MAFF came under criticism for keeping silent for weeks after it knew farmers had unwittingly planted genetically modified crops.