HC Deb 20 May 2002 vol 386 cc81-2W
Mr. Andrew Turner

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when his Department will have rural proofing embedded in policy-making procedures as set out in the Countryside Agency's report, "Rural Proofing in 2001–02". [54431]

Angela Eagle

The Government has made a firm commitment to rural proof all relevant policies and for performance to be monitored independently by the Countryside Agency. This innovative approach—described as "courageous" by the Agency's Chairman Ewen Cameron, when his first report was published on 11 April this year—applies across Government and to agencies and other Government bodies.

The first report concludes that a great deal has been achieved since this approach was proposed in the Rural White Paper in November 2000, but that much more needs to be done to make rural proofing fully effective. The report sets out details of the checklist devised by the Countryside Agency as an appendix.

Following the decision to implement the strong rural agenda set out in the White Paper, a number of other changes have taken place. In June 2001, the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) came into being. For the first time, there is a Minister of State for Rural Affairs and a Director General within DEFRA backed by a team with a clear focus on rural social and economic issues and on implementation of the Rural White Paper. A Cabinet Sub-Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for DEFRA (Mr. Meacher) has a specific focus on rural affairs. My right hon. Friend has met Ministerial colleagues across Government to discuss the challenges of delivering services in rural areas.

The Rural Services Standard, as set out in the Rural White Paper (Our Countryside: the future (Cm4909)) sets targets for the individual services delivered by Government. It is monitored for DEFRA by the Countryside Agency, and its content is currently being reviewed.

The Home Office reports regularly on the targets in the Rural White Paper for which it is responsible. It is currently reviewing and updating its policymakers checklist to include guidance to all staff on best practice and on cross-cutting issues to address in formulating policy on rural matters. Discussions are being held with the Countryside Agency on how they can assist the Department to develop training to support the guidance.