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

If that proves to be the case, the CRC will be a failure, but I think that the people surrounding the commission—an embryo body exists—are aware of those difficulties. I want the CRC to be, first, independent and, secondly, a powerful voice for change. The CRC will not be able to make that change, but it will be an advocate, tool and lever for change. It will be judged on what it delivers: I am with the hon. Gentleman on that.

Both the hon. Members for South-East Cornwall and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) have spoken about the role of local authorities. It has become fashionable to do local authorities down, but I want to see them strong and powerful. After two decades of denigrating them and reducing their powers, the tide is turning, and I hope that across all parties there is discussion about the need for a new localism. We want local authorities that are in touch with, advocate for and deliver for local people. Indeed, one interesting aspect of the Haskins review was the weight given to local authorities. Lord Haskins is a strong advocate for local authorities.

My final point is that we will have myriad players working in rural communities. Part 8 of the Bill, which we will come to later, talks about “Flexible administrative arrangements” in clauses 70 to 74, but I have some anxiety about how we will pull everything together. There will be Government offices, RDAs, the new CRC and local authorities, which we will be asking to do some of the delivery. I am not confident that we have mapped out clearly enough the infrastructure to bring about the change that we want in rural areas.

I am aware that new committees are being set up and regional plans developed in various Government offices, but I say again to the Minister that the CRC   will be judged in time. Rural administration is fragmented and will need to be examined and worked on, but I am confident that the CRC will play an important role in enhancing rural areas. I want it to be strong and independent, and to take the Government on. I want it to get under the Minister’s skin and, more particularly, under the skin of some of his ministerial colleagues, who are fairly thick-skinned when it comes to rural areas. One way to judge the CRC will be on the amount of trouble that it creates for the Government. I look forward to a lot of trouble being created to try to ensure that the balance between rural and urban communities is better addressed.