BECKETT SPARKS RURAL FURY
10:42 - 21 November 2003 "This Government
has poured resources into rural areas"
A WAR of words erupted in
the Commons yesterday after Rural Affairs Secretary Margaret Beckett
claimed the Government was "pouring" money into rural areas like the
She was "astonished" by Tory claims about "how
terrible things are in the countryside" and said the Government was making
"considerable progress" in meeting the commitments made in the Rural White
Paper three years ago.
"Whether it's housing, transport, post
offices or schools, this Government has poured resources into rural
areas," she said.
Her comments provoked an angry response on the
opposition benches, where MPs pointed out that rural district councils had
been given a real terms funding cut in the local government settlement the
previous day, while most urban areas had been given significant
They also pointed out that the tight funding settlement
could hit plans to provide more affordable housing in rural
Shadow Countryside Minister James Gray said many of the
targets met in the Rural White Paper were relatively minor ones that would
do little to boost the lot of rural communities.
"The Secretary of
State claims considerable progress, and certainly things like achieving EU
sugar beet standards are perfectly laudable," he said.
that sort of thing butters few parsnips in the countryside.
reality is that rural transport, rural policing, affordable housing,
health services, services like shops and post offices - all those things
are acknowledged to be getting worse, not better.
government spending is lower in the countryside than in towns and cities,
and rural council tax is higher for worse services. "If the Rural White
Paper and annual updates are to have any value at all they should be
demanding an analysis of how the Government is achieving what it set out
If all they are is spin-doctors' self-congratulatory
platitudes there is little point in having them."
Mrs Beckett said
a review of the White Paper review, due out before the end of the year,
was being carried out by impartial civil servants.
chairman of the Commons rural affairs committee, said the recent review of
the Government's rural services by Labour peer Lord Haskins had shown that
fundamental reforms were needed.
Several other MPs raised concerns
about the Haskins review, which has proposed merging independent wildlife
watchdog English Nature with parts of Defra and the Countryside
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Tory MP for Bridgwater, said there
was a real danger that the proposed new agency would create "a muddle of
interference and bureaucrats" that would do little for either rural
communities or wildlife.
Mrs Beckett said a full response to the
Haskins report would be published next