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EDITIONS
Friday, 19 July, 2002, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Beckett outlines rural hopes
Lambs
Margaret Beckett has insisted that her department has been awarded enough money to help the countryside through difficult times.

The rural affairs secretary denied she was disappointed with 850m earmarked for her department (Defra) in Chancellor Gordon Brown's spending review.


It's been a very difficult year for a lot of people in rural Britain, not least people affected by tourism as well as directly farming

Margaret Beckett
It was speculated that she had put in a bid for 1.1bn for the next three years.

Much of Defra's allocation is already effectively spent, with cash destined for improved flood defences and also for implementing the recommendations of the Curry report on foot-and-mouth.

Mrs Beckett, interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programmme, refused to say exactly how much she had requested from Mr Brown.

"I have always been extremely careful not to say what it was we were trying to get or hoped to get," she said.

"I am, and I think my department is, very pleased with the amount of resources that have been made available to us and we believe we can make a start on what is a very important job.

"It's been a very difficult year for a lot of people in rural Britain, not least people affected by tourism as well as directly farming."

Conference first

Mrs Beckett went on to say that the important issue was to work with people in the countryside to find a way forward.

Margaret Beckett
Mrs Beckett is due to address Labours rural affairs conference
That would be a central theme of the first ever Labour rural conference, she said.

"We are getting a lot of people together, including many rural organisations, to talk about the problems of rural Britain."

Many of those problems were common to both urban and rural areas such as housing, health care and education.

Mrs Beckett said: "We have done a huge amount in the year but there is always room for improvement."

Shake-up

The conference - which is being held in Shropshire at the Harper Adams University College in Newport - will be addressed by the rural affairs secretary.

Among the issues on the agenda will be the number of farmers quitting their industry in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Plans to shake-up the Common Agricultural Policy are also on the agenda.

Controversial moves towards a ban on hunting with dogs are also like to come up at the conference.

With a march - billed to involve thousands - planned for 22 September to end the Countryside Alliance's "Summer of Discontent", minister Alun Michael may face protests when he arrives at the conference.

Shambles?

He is in charge of overseeing the current consultation on hunting and is billed to speak.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Keith Simpson said: "DEFRA is a department in a shambles.

"Too much of what affects the countryside and farming is outside its remit.

"The countryside has rarely been so alienated from government.

"The conference will not achieve anything unless there is a re-assessment of its relationship and a change of direction in policy to steer rural areas towards profitability and sustainability."

See also:

16 Jul 02 | UK
13 Jun 02 | Politics
22 May 02 | Politics
15 Jul 02 | Politics
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