HC Deb 21 October 1998 vol 317 cc1264-5
4. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

What plans he has to improve the ordination of the Government's rural policies; and if he will make a statement. [54718]

7. Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

If he will make a statement on the structures for co-ordinating Government policies. [54723]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

My role is to assist my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and ministerial colleagues in the implementation, co-ordination and effective presentation of Government policy. In accordance with the resolution of the House on ministerial accountability made on 19 March 1997, it is for the Ministers to account for the policy decisions and actions of their Departments and next steps agencies. I shall, of course, answer questions on my responsibilities for the work of the Cabinet Office, including the better government agenda, and on my responsibilities as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mr. Luff

I am sure that the House realises that MAFF's loss is the Cabinet Office's gain, but, bearing in mind the Minister's recently relinquished responsibilities at MAFF; the growing crisis in rural Britain because of the problems facing British agriculture; the direction in which the common agricultural policy is moving; and the large number of Departments that are concerned with rural policy across the whole waterfront of issues, will he not say something a little more constructive in answer to my question?

Dr. Cunningham

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I thought that I was answering his question, which was about my role in the co-ordination and presentation of the Government's policies. He mentions rural areas, and I return his compliment in wishing him well in his continuing role as an effective and constructive Chairman of the Select Committee on Agriculture. He will know that, following the comprehensive spending review and announcements by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, the Government are paying greater attention and giving more resources to the undoubted problems in rural areas. I know those problems well, because I represent a rural constituency.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not necessary to explain to the country, through the co-ordination of policies, why it is absolutely essential to spend the extra £40 billion on schools and health services? In doing so, should it not also be explained why that money was not made available before the election and why, even now, the Conservative Opposition seem very much opposed to its being spent on education and health?

Dr. Cunningham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It would certainly help the House and, I think, the country too, if we had a clear exposition of the Opposition's policies in this area. First, my hon. Friend is right to say that the Government are whole-heartedly committed to providing an extra £21 billion for health and £19 billion for education. The shadow Chancellor says that that is extravagance and that the investment should not be made; Opposition spokesmen on health and education say that it is not enough; and the Leader of the Opposition says nothing at all.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

In adding my words of welcome to the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will think again about which title he uses in the House. It is good to see the right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) in his place. It is typical of his courtesy to the House that he should be here at this particular Question Time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman really satisfied that the Government are doing everything to address the plight of the farmers, and will he guarantee to the House that he will assist his successor in getting rid of the ban on beef on the bone, which has been his prime achievement to date as an enforcer and which has done a great deal of damage to British agriculture?

Dr. Cunningham

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks, and I join him in paying tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). He is not just a right hon. Friend, but a friend. It is a great honour for me to continue the work that he set in train in the Cabinet Office. As for my title, the reality is that the merger of the Office of Public Service and the old Cabinet Office and the new responsibilities that the Prime Minister announced in a written answer to the House on 28 July 1998, at columns 132–34, mean that the overwhelming burden of my responsibilities is to do with the work of the Cabinet Office rather than the Duchy of Lancaster, important though that work will continue to be.

As for co-ordinating policy on farmers, specific questions about agriculture must remain issues for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On the hon. Gentleman's comments about beef on the bone, the reality is that beef consumption in Britain at present is at a 20-year high, so his suggestion in that connection is wholly misplaced. The biggest problem facing farmers at present, as I am sure he will recognise, is not that ban but the ban on the export of British beef to Europe and elsewhere. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government, including the Prime Minister, are working hard to resolve that problem, which results from the incompetence of the previous Conservative Government.

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