Dr Julian Lewis: What steps is his Department taking to promote rural proofing of policy across Government?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): Rural proofing is the responsibility of all Departments. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plays a major role in making sure that it happens – as part of the policy-making process and in the design of delivery arrangements. We established the Commission for Rural Communities to monitor independently how policies are meeting rural needs.
Dr Lewis: Given that rural access to banks, schools, GPs and indeed post offices has significantly declined and that total farm incomes have fallen by 11 percent in real terms over the past year, does the Minister really think that the impact of Government policy on rural communities has been properly considered?
Mr Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman made some particular challenges. Let me just say that in fact there has been a 37 percent increase in the number of cash points and in banking availability in rural communities since 1997. The hon. Gentleman mentioned rural transport. Bus availability in rural areas has increased from 35 to 51 percent between 1997 and 2006. I agree that the rural proof is in the rural pudding, but we have delivered it.