Memorandum submitted by the Countryside
The Countryside Alliance has produced much comment
and information on the role and development of the DEFRA since
it was created after the last election. The most recent comments
were in response to the Commission on the Future of Food and Farming
chaired by Sir Don Curry, and can be seen on our web site (http://www.countryside-alliance.org/policy/Farming.html
In the two years preceding the last general
election, and in our policy handbook produced (The Real Rural
Agenda, sent to every MP and peer), we have consistently called
for the creation of a mainstream Government Departmentheaded
at Secretary of State levelto bring all rural economy,
environment, and livelihood issues under one roof, and with sufficient
authority to influence the policies and priorities of the other
major departments of state (not least the Treasury).
We also believed that such a department would
enable the UK to present more integrated and dynamic proposals
to the EU for the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and
its succession by a coherent investment-led rural development
Finally, we felt this would help to ensure that
rural livelihoods did not suffer at the hands of simplistic approaches
to the reform of global markets in the current round of world
Consequently, the Alliance applauded the Government's
decision to create DEFRA, and we continue to fully support its
continued development in what is inevitably a complex and rapidly
changing international political and social environment. While
we may disagree with individual policies, priorities, and management
issues, the basic premise of DEFRA is sound. It continues to offer
the greatest opportunity for radical change in the countryside
in a manner that secures the continued liberty and sustainable
livelihood of rural people.
Is the vision set out by the Secretary of State
appropriate, and what progress has been made to meeting that vision?
This is a very articulate vision, and the Alliance
feels that it is highly appropriate. It has one major failing
in that it does not recognise the need for market regulation on
a global scale to protect the economic and social sustainability
of rural communities. Nor does it recognise the need to manage
the ways in which markets operate in order to prevent environmental
costs being externalised and left for future generations to pick-up.
That is the source of our current carbon emission problems, and
the cause of unsustainable exploitation of fragile ecosystems
such as the sea, tropical forests, and UK lowland pasture systems.
The vision also suggests that there are competing uses for the
countryside, which is correct. But this must also emphasise the
development of systems where a variety of land-uses can work together
to create individually profitable, economically viable, and environmentally
sustainable land-holdings. That is what should be "at the
heart of our whole way of life" (to quote the DEFRA vision).
The Department has achieved very little or no
progress towards these aims, but as it has only existed for a
year, and the process of attitudinal change within its ranks has
barely begun, that is hardly surprising. For most of its existence,
it has been focused on the containment and eradication of Foot
and Mouth Disease (a completely preventable inheritance from one
of its predecessor institutions, MAFF). In itself, MAFF was politically
moribund and institutionally demoralised. The political morbidity
has gone with the appointment of, `by and large', a heavy weight
and competent ministerial team. The changes at the top of the
civil service management structure bode well for the future. But
little progress toward the vision will be made until wholesale
institutional reform is introduced to DEFRA.
The Government has made progress with the creation
of a carbon trading market, and we are definitely leading the
world in the monitoring, supervision and management of green house
gas emissions, but credit for that should go to the teams that
came out of the old DETR.
Almost no public progression has been made in
preparing the ground for the mid-term review of CAP, the forthcoming
Earth Summit in Johannesburg, nor the position relative to world
trade talks. These are recognised in rural communities as being
of seminal importance to their livelihoods, and yet there is no
process in place for consultation or inclusion of stakeholders.
The creation of the Curry Commission was an excellent idea, but
somewhat diluted by its introduction as part of the foot and mouth
In summary, we believe that the aims are broadly
sound, but they do need to demonstrate that viable and sustainable
rural economy and community constitute the bedrock of environmental
Are farming, food, environmental and conservation
concerns, and rural affairs each given proper weight by the Department,
and is the Department engineered to deliver its objectives?
We feel that much needs to be done at a strategic
level to bring together these areas of responsibility. At the
moment, they are still implemented separately, and this is resulting
in a slow pace of change. The question itself implies an inevitable
conflict between these areas. There might competition in the allocation
of resources within DEFRA, but that problem would be alleviated
considerably if resource allocation was based on integrated strategy.
Too much time at both ministerial and senior official level seems
to be taken up with the burden of reaction to external drivers,
or to administering the current portfolio of schemes and interventions.
This is not an environment in which serious change will flourish.
The current balance appears to us to be about
right, at least at ministerial level. In terms of senior staff
resources, we perceive that rural affairs is seriously under staffed,
and consequently, the rural livelihood aspect of development and
change comes second-best to environmental and conservation issues.
The danger is that people in the countryside are seen as part
of the problem rather than part of the solution. Apart from the
fact that, in the almost exclusively man-made and man-maintained
UK countryside, this would be a contradiction, it also creates
a feeling of increased alienation in rural communities. As an
example, the recent press announcements and resources allocated
to wildlife crime coincided with a time when police resources
to cope with human crime prevention and detection in the countryside
are inadequate. This is a comment on the level of resources allocated
to rural development and rural proofing, and not a comment on
the competence of the ministerial or senior civil service capability
(which we believe is good).
What has been the impact on the role and influence
of the Environmental Protection Group and the Wildlife and Countryside
Directorate on their transfer from the former DETR?
The Alliance believes that the impact has not
changed, but we hope that these groups will be more relevant to
overall rural development as time progresses. Their involvement
with the Prime Minster's Contact Group on Food and Faming is welcome.
Perhaps they should also participate more fully in the Rural Affairs
Forum for England?
What objectives has the Department set itself
in pursuing the rural affairs agenda; in what areas of policy
other than those dealt with directly by the Department has it
sought to make the case for rural affairs, and what examples are
there of success?
The publication of the first rural proofing
review by the Rural Advocate, Ewen Cameron was welcome and successful.
The Alliance was amongst the more cynical of organisations when
this operation was set-up, even though we are very much in favour
of the principle of rural proofing which formed a key recommendation
of our Real Rural Agenda in June 2001. Ewen Cameron's report was
excellent and went a great deal further than we thought possible
at such an early stage. We have two points of serious criticism.
Firstly, Government departments, DEFRA and the
Countryside Agency seem to consider that the end-point of rural
proofing is a tool kit for them to use, and then simply announce
that they have applied it. That is not acceptable. Rural proofing
should be a tool for accountability, and the results of both internal
and external rural proofing exercises should be published. In
fact, we believe that rural proofing should be the backbone of
the work of your Select Committee, and should be formally reviewed
by you each year on the publication of the report by the Rural
Secondly, we believe that Ewen Cameron's dual
roles as both the Rural Advocate and Chair of the Countryside
Agency, is untenable. The Agency itself is a major recipient of
Government grants and is an implementing agency for a number of
major projects. If the Rural Advocate is really to be seen as
the impartial but doughty defender of rural people, then he must
be divorced from the implementation of policy decisions. We would
not ask the Chief Inspector of Schools to both run schools and
then inspect them.
The Alliance has kept its response to this Inquiry
as brief as possible, and we have tried not to duplicate views
that we have expressed elsewhere. The Alliance is more than happy
to provide further information, and to give oral evidence.
We are grateful for the opportunity to express
our views on this issue to the Select Committee.
31 May 2002