Clause 17 - Commission for Rural Communities

Part of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 23rd June 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Herbert Nick Herbert Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 10:00 am, 23rd June 2005

All of us who are fortunate enough to be members of the Committee will have received representations from a plethora of voluntary bodies—some of which I am sure have representatives here watching the Committee today—that take a great interest in rural England and rural communities and that do a great deal of valuable work. The Government should be listening to their collective voices. I question whether it is necessary for the Government to set up their own public voice to which they are supposed to pay attention.

I am intrigued by the idea of rural-proofing—the idea that the commission should encourage the Government in all cases to think rural and act as a rural advocate. I ask again why voluntary bodies cannot perform that role. In relation to my constituency, the Deputy Prime Minister overruled the wishes of local people as expressed through their local authorities and imposed 46,500 houses on West Sussex. Was that the kind of policy that the new commission for rural communities would have been able to rural-proof? Would it have advised the Deputy Prime Minister that that policy was not in the interests of rural communities in my area? If so, would he have reversed the decision? I suspect not. Large parts of West Sussex have a water shortage and we have a hosepipe ban already. There are serious questions about whether that part of the world has sufficient   infrastructure to accommodate housing on that scale, but central Government are simply ignoring those concerns.

I invite the Minister to tell me whether we will be able to rely on the new body, with its powers to rural-proof, to prevent such anti-rural policies from being introduced in future. It is wrong of him to caricature the genuine concern about the establishment of the body that hon. Members have expressed as somehow not properly representing the interests of rural people. I think he suggested that he was surprised that we were not more concerned about them. In fact, we are very concerned, indeed, about the interests of rural people. It is a perfectly simple question to ask whether the establishment of a Government body in itself supports their interests. I do not see that the Bill answers that question positively at all.