Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
With your permission, a LeasCheann Comhairle, I will answer question No 1 and question No 17 together.
I am pleased to report that progress continues on developing the rural White Paper. During coming weeks, I will submit proposals for a thematic approach to the Executive. The rural White Paper stakeholder advisory group has commenced work in subgroup format on the five themes that have been identified in proposals for a thematic approach to the rural White Paper’s development. That work includes looking at issues and challenges that rural communities face and identifying new approaches to address those challenges.
It is anticipated that that work will be completed by late autumn 2009, following which the five subgroups will report to the Department on the outcome of their work. The Department has discussed its proposals for the rural White Paper with the interdepartmental committee on rural policy and seeks nominations from other Departments of appropriate officials to participate in the rural White Paper’s development.
It is proposed that other Departments will begin to engage with stakeholders during the subgroup stage. The Department has also considered options for the establishment of an effective rural evidence base as part of the rural champion concept and is commissioning papers to help to inform the rural White Paper. It is proposed that the main work to develop the rural White Paper will take place during 2009 and into 2010, with public consultation on the draft document in 2010. That time frame will tie in with the development of the new comprehensive spending review.
I thank the Minister for her reply. She was probably not in the Chamber when the First Minister referred to the role that agriculture can play in mitigating climate change through renewable energy initiatives. Will the Minister include firm proposals to expand green energy in the rural White Paper? Can she assure the House that she will make that a priority?
If the Member will allow me some latitude, I am happy to return to that matter when I answer environmental questions later. Climate change mitigation does not necessarily fit into the main role of the rural White Paper. The paper aims at ensuring that rural dwellers’ entitlement to goods and services is equal to that of urban dwellers and not merely a tick-box exercise at the end of the policymaking process.
I agree with the First Minister that agriculture has a role to play in mitigating climate change. I am happy to respond to the Member in writing on that issue.
The rural White Paper represents a wide range of rural interests and sets out five themes, which are being considered in subgroup format. I will come back to the Executive with further detail on the work on the five themes. I am happy to provide the Member with more details in writing if that is OK.
I certainly do believe that the rural White Paper represents value for money; I would not have brought it forward otherwise. The fact that the North was without a rural White Paper when the rest of Ireland had one, as did England, Scotland and Wales, shows that there is merit in having one.
We must ensure that rural dwellers are not left out during policy formulation. As I said, the development of the proposals on the rural White Paper will take place throughout 2009, and we will produce a more detailed paper in 2010. That fits in with the comprehensive spending review. It is worth spending the money to ensure that rural dwellers are not left behind, and it fits in with the departmental budget. Members will be glad when the rural White Paper is developed, and I am happy to receive input from Members.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Maith thú, a Chiaráin. Caithfidh mé é sin a rá. The SDLP is a long-term proponent of the rural White Paper. The Minister mentioned that she will engage with stakeholders during 2009-2010 and hold further widespread public consultation thereafter. Does the Minister have any indication of when the public consultation will be complete and, more importantly, when we might be at the point of having a rural White Paper? Does she have a deadline or specific date in mind?
Much work has already been done with stakeholders, and I am pleased that some rural organisations have held conferences to discuss the rural White Paper. For empowerment purposes, the rural community needs to say what it wants to see in there. The rural White Paper stakeholder advisory group represents a broad range of issues, such as agriculture interests, which are represented by the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the Young Farmers Clubs and NIAPA. It also represents environmental groups and broader rural organisations such as the Rural Development Council and the Rural Community Network.
The Department is formulating a big piece of policy work, the bones of which I will take to the Executive in the next few weeks. Much work has already been done. As I have said in the House, a job that is worth doing is worth doing right. I want to get it right, and I expect firm proposals to come through this year and be published in 2010. You will see a rural White Paper in the next 12 months or thereabouts.
That is not necessarily the job of the rural White Paper. It aims to improve co-operation between the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and other Departments. We need to ensure that, when other Departments formulate policy, they consider the 40% of the population who live in rural areas. It is about governmental acceptance of the needs of the rural community. Every Department plays a part; whether it is health, education or roads, every Department has an obligation to meet the needs of rural dwellers. The rural White Paper will ensure that we are not left behind during the formulation of those policies.