28 April 1995

Waldegrave attacks Labours cobbled together rural policy

By Peter Bullen

Political correspondent

LABOURS rural policy (News, Apr 21) will hit jobs, stifle enterprise and lead to more regulation, claimed farm minister William Waldegrave on Monday.

In a stinging, pre-local elections attack he said Labour had tried to cobble together a rural policy in the past week or two. "Listening to Squire Prescott talking about rural problems surely stretches credibility to the limit," he said. "The fact is Labour remains an urban party, with urban interests and urban policies."

Its proposed minimum wage would lead to lost employment opportunities in sectors such as tourism and catering, which were vital to the rural economy. Labours call for a "right to roam" would replace co-operation in the countryside with conflict. "It is really a right to ruin, with property, crops and livestock all being made more vulnerable," he added.

Labour would like to wrap rural communities in red-tape and burdensome bureaucracy, with regional assemblies, cultural policies for each local authority, regional development agencies and a rural development bank. These would lead to more regulation and serve only to stifle enterprise in rural areas.

Switching his target, he added: "The Liberal Democrats are just as bad. They are pushing for more red tape in rural areas as well."

Their proposed countryside management contracts would just burden farmers with more regulations. In addition they wanted to impose new fertiliser and pesticide taxes on farmers.

They too wanted more rural bureaucrats, with regional assemblies setting up their own rural policy units, plus a new Department of Natural Resources and a Cabinet Office rural policy unit. Liberal Democrats were more inclined to help New Age travellers than farmers. Their proposed "hippy havens" – special sites for New Age travellers – had made his local farmers in Somerset furious, said Mr Waldegrave.

lEarlier, LibDem farm spokes-man Paul Tyler claimed campaign returns for next Thursdays (May 4) local elections showed a substantial shift from the Tories to the Liberal Democrats.

With little evidence of Labour activity in rural areas and with the Tory vote reported to be in "free-fall" in a number of agricultural areas, the political colour of rural areas was changing.

"In almost all farming communities the Liberal Democrats are the acknowledged challengers – even by the Labour Party," he said. "The trend is consistent and continuous: The rural areas are turning gold." &#42