HC Deb 12 December 1979 vol 975 cc1292-4
12. Mr. Peter Mills

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has, relating to the future of the Development Commission and its associated organisation, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. King

The functions of the Development Commission and COSIRA are currently under review.

Mr. Mills

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that those organisations are very important, particularly in rural areas, that they need adequate resources, that it is totally in line with Conservative policy to help small businesses, and that occasionally there is a real case for having seed corn?

Mr. King

I recognise my hon. Friend's concern and I know the value that many hon. Members place on the work done by the Development Commission and COSIRA. We are conducting a quick review, which I hope will be completed within the first two months of next year. We recognise the role that the Development Commission and COSIRA have played. On funding, we are anxious to find ways to encourage their work, other than through public resources, and I am encouraged by the response that the Development Commission has received. I understand that it is likely to get access to substantial funds from the private sector and from clearing banks, and that could be of great benefit. That is important in achieving our social and employment objectives without the restraint that may arise from public expenditure cuts.

Mr. Newens

Does the Minister recognise that frequently the biggest problem facing those who wish to set up a small enterprise in a rural area is that of obtaining industrial premises? Does the Minister accept the necessity of providing industrial estates where premises can be rented cheaply, such as were previously provided by new town corporations and which the Secretary of State now proposes to sell off?

Mr. King

I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman managed to drag new town corporations into the subject of industry in rural areas. There is a problem as regards premises, and many district councils are helping to support the installation of small new industrial estates. We also attach great importance to the use of existing buildings in rural areas. The Secretary of State and I have stressed to the planning authorities that they should allow better use of existing buildings, such as farm buildings, that are suitable for small industrial purposes.

Mr. Kimball

Could not the grant-aided functions of COSIRA and the Development Commission be undertaken by the Department of Trade? Are not both of those organisations quangos which should go?

Mr. King

With respect to my hon. Friend, I do not think that the Department of Trade would be the most obvious home for those activities. However, we are reviewing their operation. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, we are concerned about the problems affecting rural areas and we are keeping these alternative propositions in mind.

Mr. Marks

Is the Minister aware that the Development Commission and COSIRA are held in high regard for the work that they have done? Does he recognise that that has been achieved because of Government aid? Is not the review a way of getting out of giving Government help? The right hon. Gentleman claims that private funds are available, but I doubt that very much.

Mr. King

We wish to discover how the rural areas can be helped most effectively. The obsession of Labour Members with public help has been a positive hindrance to making real improvements in rural areas. As I have said, the Development Commission, with our encouragement, has now found ways of increasing the funds available to it, by enlisting private sector financial support. Many of the projects in which COSIRA and the Development Commission are involved are perfectly viable and do not necessarily need to be funded purely from public funds.