Rural tsar "to review Defra spending"

Tony Blair's "rural tsar" has been ordered to look into the structure and spending of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Labour peer Lord Haskins is to scrutinise how Defra, which is headed by Margaret Beckett, spends its annual budget of #3 billion, according to BBC Radio 4's Farming Today programme.

Lord Haskins has refused to confirm or deny the report.

Asked whether he had been asked to look at Defra's spending, he said: "That's rather grandiose and rather ambitious. You would have to ask somebody else that."

But he told Radio 4's Today programme: "Tony Blair has asked me to do nothing for about 12 months and I haven't spoken to him for about 12 months.

"I get asked, I've done reports for the Government on foot and mouth and on red tape ... so they ask me from time to time my views on how we could reduce the red tape on farmers, and I'm very glad to help when they ask me."

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "This is not going to be an over-arching review as it is being reported in the media.

"It is a small internal project looking at Rural Support Grants."