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Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): Do the Government intend to reopen those police stations in the hon. Gentleman's constituency?

Mr. Hanson: The Labour Government will put resources into policing to ensure that we reduce crime. There is a difference between removing police stations

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and reducing rural crime cover, and examining that issue in the light of the damage done by the previous Government. We will put resources into policing to ensure that rural as well as urban areas are covered.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanson: In a moment. There is a limited amount of time, and many hon. Members want to speak.

With regard to transport, 33 million bus journeys per year were lost in Wales thanks to rural bus deregulation. On housing, we have had inappropriate planning policies, many planning appeals have been allowed and council house building has been prevented, thus reducing the number of affordable homes in rural areas. Great damage has been done on a range of issues as a direct result of the Conservative Government's policies.

Mr. Paice: Bearing in mind the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already confirmed expenditure policies for the current and the next financial year, will the hon. Gentleman tell us how much extra money will be spent on rural policing over and above that which the previous Government announced?

Mr. Hanson: The Chancellor has said that the target limits for the next two years are the same, but the priorities within them will be reviewed. A fundamental and comprehensive spending review is being undertaken, which will examine levels of spending and what has been done. We should also consider the key issue of crime prevention in rural areas to ensure that we reduce crime. The Government will improve on the previous Government's performance in many aspects of policy.

The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who has now left the Chamber, referred to wage levels. The Conservative Government launched an assault on the agricultural wages boards and tolerated rural low pay and rural poverty. I look forward to the establishment by the new Labour Government of a minimum wage and positive policies to tackle those issues.

The previous Government's record on education was appalling. The main concerns in my constituency during the previous Parliament were nursery vouchers and the potential for selection in schools, both of which had a dramatic effect on rural areas. If there is selection and if there is only one major school in a nearby town, many rural people will require additional transport to get their children to school. The rejection of the nursery voucher scheme in Wales was overwhelming in rural areas. The vast majority of petitions that I received from rural areas during the previous Parliament were about nursery voucher provision. The Conservative Government's education policies did great damage to my rural constituents.

People in rural areas are concerned about the removal of shops and pubs. The possible privatisation of the Post Office caused great fear in rural communities. The sell-off of woodlands and the destruction of hedgerows were part of a range of policies that the previous Government followed, and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), will address those problems.

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There is also the farm crisis fiasco of BSE, which has cost billions of pounds of taxpayers' money and has destroyed many rural incomes and rural communities. It has put great pressure on the people whom some Conservative Members purport to represent.

One reason why there are 164 Conservative Members and 418 Labour Members is the previous Government's failure--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. There is much shouting in the Chamber. Hon. Members should not try to shout down the hon. Gentleman because he expresses an opinion with which they do not agree.

Mr. Hanson: Many of my hon. Friends are out running the country, which is why they are not here at the moment.

The BSE crisis had a tremendous impact in rural areas. I should like to see some key policies put into practice in the countryside. We must look at economic prosperity to see how the Government can encourage small and medium-sized businesses to develop.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hanson: Time is pressing. I have given way a number of times and I must make progress so that other hon. Members may have an opportunity to speak.

I want economic renewal in rural areas. The hon. Member for West Suffolk spoke about information technology. I hope that the Government will extend information technology services and encourage them in many parts of rural Wales, especially in my area. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the important issue of developing rural communities and businesses. The Government should support a modern reappraisal of IT and put some effort and resources into it.

The Government should encourage environmentally sustainable businesses, help farmers to diversify, and encourage and develop tourism. They should use the proceeds of the windfall tax, which will shortly be on stream, to help young people in rural areas where there is high and persistent unemployment. Community projects would create employment opportunities for such young people.

The Government should concentrate on the protection and enhancement of the countryside environment and set national strategies for the protection of rural areas. That will entail considering hedgerows and the retention and planting of woodlands so that we can rebuild the rural community that was decimated by many of the Conservative Government's policies. There should be a Minister in each Department responsible for countryside matters, and the Government should help to provide low-cost housing by assisting housing associations and using some capital receipts to allow local authorities to build small developments of rented accommodation. That would allow many of my constituents to stay in the communities in which they were born and have grown up.

The current review of transport policy should enable bus services to be examined again so that they are improved in many of my rural communities. Many Conservative policies caused great damage, and there is

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much that the new Government need to do. Their policies will help all the people of the United Kingdom and specifically many of my rural constituents.

The Government should consider using lottery funds to help rural areas. There is much that a people's lottery can do to refurbish village halls and to provide amenities in villages and playing fields. Rather than concentrating lottery money on the major towns and projects, spending should be diversified and put into local communities. That would encourage small organisations as well as the large, well-prepared, well-briefed organisations to have access to lottery money.

There is an opportunity for people in rural areas to work with the new Government. Many of us live and work in rural areas and speak for their inhabitants. The Government have an opportunity to do much good work that will undo some of the damage caused by the Conservative Government. We shall govern for all the people of this United Kingdom. All our people have a stake in it, and we speak for rural areas as strongly as do the fox hunters, the shooters and Conservative Members.

10.14 am

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea): The debate takes place in the immediate aftermath of the great countryside rally in Hyde park, which I attended. The countryside is under threat from a range of influences, which my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) has described. Stupid bureaucrats, greedy speculators, rogue gangs and cultural and material vandalism have all placed the countryside that we all love and cherish under threat.

The rally seemed to polarise two important issues on the issue of fox hunting. One of those issues is the tension between town and country, which has been exacerbated, particularly by spiteful and malicious press coverage in, for example, The Mirror. It referred to people who live in the countryside as bumpkins, and the reports seemed to be written by a gang of reporters who have no feeling for the countryside or the cause of animal welfare, which they pretend to espouse. Presumably they went out and ate enormous plates of steak and chips after filing their reports.

The second issue that has been affected by the polarisation is animal welfare, which the single-minded obsession with fox hunting is threatening. My credentials in this field are well known and I hope that the House will allow me briefly to weary it with them. My maiden speech supported a Bill to abolish hare coursing, which was presented by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when he was in opposition, and I voted for his later Bill to protect wildlife.

When I was Minister for Trade, I drafted legislation on fur labelling which is currently being enacted by the European Union. I have participated in many such activities, including joining the picket line at Dover docks. That was probably not the best way to ingratiate oneself with the Conservative associations which I was assiduously courting at that time.

I do not hunt and I do not permit hunts to cross land that I own. Some types of hunting are cruel and sadistic. They include the practice of stopping up, which, for Labour Members who do not know about it, involves

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blocking a fox's earth so that, at the end of the pursuit, the fox cannot go underground, digging him out when he does go underground, and cubbing. There should be a close season on that pastime. Stag hunting is another such pastime. The right way to get rid of a stag is with a Mannlicher .273 with a telescopic sight, not tearing it to pieces in water.

Those who favour a Bill on fox hunting must be prepared to make some concessions. There is a majority feeling on the topic that cannot be ignored. If Labour Members and the Government are prepared to make illegal--and they should be illegal--the practices that I have identified, they could allow the pursuit of a fox across the countryside. That practice is deeply rooted in the pageantry of our rural history, is seated in 300 to 400 years of practice and has not only a pictorial but a sporting element attaching to it. If they can sanitise it by taking out practices that are genuinely offensive, barbarous and cruel, they would be well advised to allow it to continue.

The whole question of animal welfare has become so polarised that matters that do require attention--laboratory experiments, brutalities in stockyards, factory farming and the horrendous industrialised exploitation of animals, which takes place daily--all need to be addressed urgently by the House. There is a danger that, if Labour Members get rid of fox hunting, they will feel that they can turn their attention to other things--that they have done their duty in the animal welfare sector and can move on. This is an important subject which requires careful attention and proper analysis. There is room for a compromise along the lines that I have suggested.

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