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 Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:45 am, 23rd June 2005

I feel humbled and corrected by the hon. Gentleman about the beauty of rural Sheffield, which I am sure matches that of the south downs; no doubt both areas have deprivation on a similar scale.

The most serious points made were about the extent to which the establishment of a body such as the CRC usurps powers and roles that should properly belong   to local authorities. It is a great pity that, while the thrust of public debate is moving, as the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) suggested, towards re-establishing power in local government, we are moving in the wrong direction by establishing this quango. There are issues about the extent to which rural authorities, even in an area such as mine, are sufficiently resourced to be able to deliver services to their areas. However, as an author of a new publication, “Direct Democracy”— I am sure that the Minister will have read it—that argues for a return of power to individuals, to local communities and, if possible, to local government from central Government, I think that it is a shame that that will not happen with this body.

We should also consider the extent to which voluntary organisations have the advocacy role that is being conferred on this body. Establishing public bodies such as this crowds out the ability of voluntary organisations to represent rural areas. There is quite a serious issue about the extent to which the Government are establishing publicly funded bodies that use those public funds to argue for greater public spending in certain areas. Arguing for greater Government intervention is properly the role of civil society and voluntary organisations. Setting up self-perpetuating bodies arguing for more Government intervention and more Government spending seems to me to be wrong in principle.