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'BLAIR TO CREATE COUNTRYSIDE DEPARTMENT'

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Tony Blair is considering setting up a new department for rural affairs, to represent farmers and the countryside l...
Tony Blair is considering setting up a new department for rural affairs, to represent farmers and the countryside lobby, as part of a wide-ranging shake-up of Whitehall, reported The Independent

on Sunday (p4).

The prime minister is more likely to await the autumn publication of the countryside white paper in autumn before announcing the change, rather than in this week's cabinet reshuffle.

The creation of a new department is proposed in a confidential policy document on 'rurality', produced by the government's Performance and Innovation Unit, based in the Cabinet Office. It has been discussed by senior ministers.

The department would include the responsibilities now covered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food - which is already being broken up by the creation of the new Food Standards Agency. Agriculture secretary Nick Brown is tipped to head the department, which would also include the rural responsibilities of the DETR - including possible legislation on the right to roam, countryside regeneration and the protection of sites of special scientific and natural interest.

Downing Street is said to believe the new department would allow John Prescott to concentrate on transport policy.

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