Clause 17 - Commission for Rural Communities

Part of Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 23rd June 2005.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 10:15 am, 23rd June 2005

The hon. Gentleman corrects me and makes a very valid point. Who, therefore, within the local authority chooses to see that group of people as relevant to put on the electoral register? I do not know whether people who are here for a six-month period are entitled to be on the register, but if they are, there is a debate to be had. Let us suppose that 3,000 people in one or two of the wards suddenly appeared on the electoral register—my brain is now thinking ahead and I may rush from the Room. It is a shame they cannot vote for me, too. These are important issues. A commission that can take a non-party political and non-partisan view and crucially that is not subjected to the whims—perhaps I should say the accountability and pressures—of the electorate on some of these issues could come up with coherent, significant advice.

Mineral plans are another example where there is the potential for a clash with the local authorities’ approach. We know how local authorities develop mineral plans; they have to reach certain decisions and they will upset some local communities in the way they do so because they have to achieve their objectives. The impact that might have on a rural community is something that the body might want to take a look at.

GP funding is another absolutely classic example. The future of GP funding in terms of outreach provision—be it single GP practices or the spread of large practices—especially in a constituency like mine, should be considered. Rural GP practices are cross-county and there are all sorts of complications in linking them into the health structures. How national policy determines GP funding is of fundamental importance, and probably much more critical than any decisions of primary care trusts and strategic health authorities in this context. My constituency cannot be the only rural community where that would be the case. There is a very good argument for the proposed body to consider, as part of the work plan, whether rural communities are developing well or if there is a problem. That is exactly the kind of work which, in a non-partisan way, would have an impact on the policy making of political parties and directly on decisions that Parliament might take.

There are many other examples, such as the future of privatised telephone boxes. For many people in rural communities, the existence of a telephone box in the village—