Adjournment (Summer)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:37 pm on 9th July 1992.

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Photo of Mr David Porter Mr David Porter , Waveney 6:37 pm, 9th July 1992

I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you are looking forward to a break. Some press hacks have described the Session as a very boring Parliament so far, but only you and the other occupants of the Chair can judge whether that is so. I certainly shall not oppose the motion for the Adjournment of the House for the summer recess. However, if the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) had sought to bring the House back in September, he would have carried me with him.

Many of us will be looking forward to spending a little extra time with our families while we and our fellow citizens become tourists. The help that the tourist industry will receive will be concentrated in large part on rural Britain. It is on rural Britain that I ask the House to focus before we adjourn, tempting though other matters are, such as the late and unlamented treaty of Maastricht.

I put in a bid for a timed Consolidated Fund debate, which will follow this debate. I drew 27th position with a debate entitled "Quality of Life in the Rural Areas". I gather that there was some discussion between the Department of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, neither of which thought that it should send a Minister to reply to my debate. That illustrates admirably the point that I wish to make. I want to know who is responsible for rural areas within the Government.

The traveller who fills his car with petrol may catch a whiff of country air and be under the impression that he has contracted the rural experience. The InterCity rail traveller may notice cattle in a field between housing estates and do-it-yourself stores as he travels from city to city. The name InterCity highlights a real divide, the rural-urban divide. It is what I call another divide, another country. It may not have the great appeal of the north-south divide, but it is real.

Just over five years ago, I made my maiden speech in the House. Describing my constituency, I said that support for inner-city priorities could be forthcoming from rural areas, but only up to a point. Most of my constituents live in or around Lowestoft, but more than 20,000 live in the market towns of Beccles, Bungay, Southwold and Halesworth or in the major villages and small villages. I am talking not about people who know that milk does not grow in bottles and packets but about those who make up the rural economy, those who are the rural community that so enriches our nation. Unfortunately, this community is easily forgotten. Few members of it can talk about being on the soil man and boy, but one in five people in England lives in a rural area.

Most hon. Members recognise that farmers in England have been going through a difficult period lately, but if we take any other issue—cottage hospitals, emergency services, prescriptions, village schools, housing, transport, planning, waste disposal, food-related industries, local services such as shops and pubs, the uniform business rate, the aging population or the shortage of youngsters—we find that there is a rural angle to it.

A million-member alliance of 10 national countryside organisations—as diverse as the Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Country Landowners Association, the National Association of Local Councils and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations—has overcome tensions within its membership to speak with what it calls the rural voice. The members agree that it is essential to face and not conceal the tensions that often exist between different rural interests as well as the natural tensions between town and country. They seek from the Government a considered rural policy, wide in scope and as integrated as possible, which automatically considers the effects on the countryside of proposed legislation and spending programmes.

In the past, it has been suggested that there should be a House of Commons Select Committee for the rural areas. Of course, that is not feasible, but a rural audit of all policies would help a great deal. While rural residents do not expect special privileges just because they live in rural areas, they expect a recognition of the special needs and problems unique to rural areas. Their manifesto for rural England in the 1990s summarises the problems superbly and makes suggestions for overcoming them. That could form the basis for a rural audit for all Departments of Government, national and local. We already accept cost-benefit audits, a citizens' audit—which, in effect, is the citizens charter—environmental audits, which are becoming more popular, and even family audits. I ask my right hon. Friend to consider introducing a rural audit.

I had intended to raise two other points, but I am conscious of the time. I shall seek to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, at a future date.