7 February 2000
Blair has no plans for rural ministry
by FWi staff
TONY BLAIR has denied having any plans to break up the Ministry of Agriculture and set up a Ministry of Rural Affairs to look after countryside issues.
Speculation was mounting that the Prime Minister would unveil proposals for a new rural ministry as part of the governments Rural White Paper later this year.
Labour ministers have for a long time claimed that MAFF is too close to farmers and looks after the interests of producers rather than consumers.
Former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam, who now coordinates the cabinet committee on rural affairs, had been tipped to head the new department.
The resignation of MAFF permanent secretary Richard Packer just before Christmas was taken as a further sign that a rural ministry was on the cards.
But when asked whether a new ministry would be set up, Mr Blair told the BBC Countryfile programme: “We dont have any plans to do that.”
The challenge was to coordinate the governments rural policy across government and work out a solution to the farming crisis, Mr Blair added.
He continued “The real problem isnt which bit of the government machine is dealing with it.”
Mr Blair indicated that the government might help farmers through the short-term, saying it was obvious that he had an obligation to help people survive.
But he again appeared to rule out any agrimonetary compensation to counter the effect of the strong Pound which has devalued farmers subsidies.
“The only thing I can say to people is that it all costs money and Ive got many demands on the public exchequer,” he said.
However, Mr Blair acknowledged that diversification wasnt viable for all farmer. Not everyone could diversify and he wanted to keep people in agriculture.