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Rural Development

6. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): What recent discussions she has had with her colleagues in other Departments on the co-ordination of rural development. [148770]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): I chair the ministerial rural affairs group, which provides a forum for discussions with colleagues on rural development and other issues.

Mr. George: I am grateful to the Minister for her reply, but what has happened since the establishment of the Cabinet Committee on rural affairs? How often has it met? Does it recognise that there is an urgent crisis in rural areas? What action is it taking with other Departments to address the fact that small family farms are going out of business in their droves? After all, they are the bedrock of rural life in this country and they deserve better treatment. How is the Cabinet Committee addressing that issue?

Marjorie Mowlam: The ministerial rural affairs group is co-ordinating rural policy and rural proofing to ensure that Departments consider the impact of their policies on rural areas, that the policies work as effectively as possible to support rural life, and that a joined-up approach is taken to tackle the problems faced by rural communities. The hon. Gentleman refers specifically to small farms. We have put £1.6 billion into the English

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rural development programme, which will provide vital support to help farmers to play a role in diversifying their production in the economy.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the initiatives on farms from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and on village post offices from the Department of Trade and Industry have played an important part in assisting rural regeneration, local authorities are the principal agents of joined-up government in rural areas? Will she evaluate whether this year's well above inflation settlements for local authorities have gone a long way to improve the co-ordination of services in rural areas?

Marjorie Mowlam: The additional funding for local authorities will help co-ordination and delivery in rural and urban areas and is a welcome development, so efforts are already being made in relation to rural areas. We have put an extra £239 million into transport, with an extra £15 million in parish funds for community-based solutions. Alongside the £37 million in extra funding for market town regeneration, that shows that we are making noticeable progress. It should be compared with the Tory party's record in government, when 30,000 post offices were closed, one in four parishes were without a bus service and 30 village schools closed each year. I hope that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) bears that in mind before he asks his question.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Is it not a fact that the only real rural co-ordination going on at the moment is the massive co-ordination for the even more massive march that will be held on 18 March to protest about the way in which the Government keep attacking the rural way of life and neglect totally the problems of the countryside?

Marjorie Mowlam: If the hon. Gentleman's party had not neglected rural areas when in power, the anger would not be so great. We inherited one in four parishes with no transport; 3,000 schools closing; a transport system that was not working; and village schools that were closing. In comparison, we have put money into transport and given a 50 per cent. rate relief to village shops, pubs and garages--which are crucial to communities--and £40 million extra to support small schools, and there is an affordable house scheme. We are concerned about rural areas and we are making a difference. Yes, people are unhappy because we are having to make a lot of progress very quickly, given what we inherited from the Conservative party.

Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): My constituency has rural areas to the north and west. What is the Government's commitment to rural Britain after years of neglect?

Marjorie Mowlam: I have talked about rate relief for village shops and the money for transport and schools, but, at the same time, we are encouraging housebuilding on brownfield sites, which is terribly important if we are to have a sustainable policy to keep the green belt alive. We have saved a lot of green belt with our emphasis on

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building on brownfield sites. We have an area of greenbelt land the size of Bristol. All that we need to do is compare that with what the Opposition did when in government.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Has the rural affairs committee focused in its discussions on the issue of farm incomes? I am sure that the Minister will agree that many rural areas have been very hard hit by the fall in farm incomes by three quarters, so will the Government claim the agrimonetary compensation that will be available before 30 April--yes or no?

Marjorie Mowlam: It is common practice not to discuss the detail of a Cabinet Committee's discussions, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we cover the whole waterfront in terms of rural policy. Since 1997, we have provided an extra £1 billion to help the farming industry through difficult times and, now, an additional £1.6 billion for the English rural development programme will provide vital support to help farming play a greater role in the diverse economies in rural areas.

On Europe, I assure the Minister--[Interruption.]--the Leader of the Opposition--[Interruption.] I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Does it matter?

Marjorie Mowlam: I do not think that it does.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, in relation to Europe, we are working hard to maximise the benefits for industry, including agriculture, in this country. That cannot be said of the Conservative party.

Mr. Lansley: The Minister must know from her discussions across the waterfront that farmers have been hard hit. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has made it clear that this is the worst agricultural recession for many years, and farm incomes are at their lowest in real terms since the 1930s. If ever there were a moment to use the resources that can be claimed from the European Community, it is now and £200 million is available before 30 April. Farmers know that the Conservatives, should we form a Government before 30 April--[Hon. Members: "No."] Yes, and farmers know that the Conservatives will make that £200 million available. Will the Government do that--yes or no?

Marjorie Mowlam: Farmers know that we have been helpful since 1997 and should compare our record with what happened before. In Europe, we are doing all that we can to help farmers to obtain the benefits that Europe offers. The Conservatives promise that the agrimonetary payments will be claimed but, if I were a farmer, I would consider how many agrimonetary payments they obtained when they were in government. The answer is none.

Drug Use

7. Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): What new initiatives and resources are planned in the campaign against drug usage by younger adolescents. [148771]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): As the Government announced this morning, we are putting £152 million over three years into

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co-ordinating and targeting local services to help young people, including those most vulnerable from drug misuse.

The Government's anti-drugs strategy has set challenging targets to halve the numbers of young people using illegal drugs by 2008. We are ensuring that young people receive the help and advice that they need to resist drug misuse, and we shall increase drug education and prevention spending from £63 million this year to £120 million in 2003-04.

In Leicestershire, the county council education department's drug policy is due to be published in the spring of this year, with training planned to support its implementation.

Mr. Taylor: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. May I commend to him the work in Leicestershire schools of the life education centres, whose drug prevention education helps many thousands of children make healthy choices? Will he discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment ways of sustaining and developing the LECs, particularly in the use of digital technology, to make their programmes more effective with pupils, teachers and parents?

Mr. McCartney: Yes. I am also prepared to come to Leicestershire to hold discussions with my hon. Friend and his colleagues there about how we can build on the work that is already being done in the county to prevent addiction but, when it does, to provide proper treatment. We shall also help to relieve communities in Leicestershire from the stress that drug dealers cause in some of them.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Is it--[Interruption.] It is always a pleasure to brighten up the lives of miserable Labour Members who are about to lose their seats.

Is it the right hon. Gentleman's policy that young offenders who abuse drugs should be eligible for drug referral schemes? If so, what assessment has he made of attendance at, and participation in, such schemes? Does he believe that it is necessary to have a mixture of a carrot-and-stick approach to ensure compliance? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to settle down; there are too many private conversations.

Mr. McCartney: The issue is not about saving seats; it is about saving lives. Perhaps I can draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to that. The schemes are working effectively. They encourage young people who have a drug abuse problem to take responsibility for seeking out a partnership with the local authority to receive available treatment and to address the issues that arise from the criminal activity related to their misuse of drugs.

The pilot project has had two results: first, there has been a dramatic decrease in criminal activity--up to £300 a week less has been stolen to feed the drug habit; and secondly, a large proportion of the people in the schemes are successfully participating in the treatment programmes and are about to go on to receive education, training and housing. However, it is a hell of a job to get those young people to work in a sustained way in the

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community. It is difficult to get them to give up drugs, sustain the lack of drug activity and to go on to a healthy life style, but we must ensure that we get on with encouraging that. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that that is what we are doing.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): May I invite my right hon. Friend to visit Halifax to meet some of the dedicated workers who are employed in drug referral and prevention strategies? Will he join me in condemning the proposals by Tory-controlled Calderdale council to cut staff in that vital service?

Mr. McCartney: First, I would be more than happy to visit my hon. Friend's constituency. Secondly, a year or so ago I went to her local authority to discuss drug issues on estates. I would be staggered if any local authority decided to reduce funding in such a vital service when the Government have put in place a £1 billion investment programme to prevent drug abuse, provide treatment, encourage community safety and reduce the availability of drugs in communities. There is no reason why her local authority should not be involved in a strategy to ensure that the system in her community works effectively to get young people off drugs and into a more proactive life style.

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