Clause 17 - Commission for Rural Communities

Part of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 23rd June 2005.

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Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood 9:45 am, 23rd June 2005

The Government recognised that they needed to consider the infrastructure. The hon. Gentleman talked in his opening comments about the strong campaign for a department for rural affairs. The Government wisely decided against that, and moved towards the establishment of DEFRA. As he said, that led to conflict between DEFRA as a deliverer of policy and the Countryside Agency, which still had a policy function.

I shall make two points about that. First, the needs of rural areas must be acknowledged, and the establishment of DEFRA showed that. Secondly, I feel strongly that there is a need for an independent voice for rural areas. The Minister spoke about independence, and that is important. However, the point that he made about strength is more important. The commission must be a strong body that is not afraid to take the Government on. There must be a dynamic tension—that is the kind of phrase that they use in No. 10 sometimes—between the new CRC and Government.

I am pleased that the chairman of the CRC will be the rural advocate, appointed by the Prime Minister and having direct access to him; perhaps the Minister will confirm that. Hon. Members who have already spoken have made important points, but it is important that the new body sensitises the Government and Departments to the needs of rural areas. Having said that, I accept that there will be some conflict between the policies being devised in DEFRA and the new CRC. That area needs further work and examination.

The new body needs to an independent outsider prepared to criticise the Government openly. It needs to produce an annual report and a stock-take of what the Government do. In the early days, that stock-take might be pretty poor, but it might be an encouragement to Government to do more. However, there is some tension between DEFRA and its officials and the new body, which needs to be carefully managed.

I am also clear that the body is designed to be a policy instrument rather than a service deliverer. That is right, but issues arise from that. One is that it is sometimes hard for a policy wonk to stay in touch with the real world. I am not convinced that the Haskins split between policy and delivery is as clear cut as many people argue. I am not entirely sure from where the CRC will get its knowledge of the situation on the ground, which is an important and difficult issue that needs to be carefully examined. As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall said, the needs of rural communities across the country will be different and require different solutions.