HC Deb 02 July 1986 vol 100 cc992-4
3. Sir Hector Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will reconsider his decision not to establish a rural development fund outwith the Highlands and Islands Board Development area.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I am not convinced that such a fund is necessary, bearing in mind the very extensive measures of assistance already available to rural areas.

Sir Hector Monro

Bearing in mind the urgency of revitalising the rural economy, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the SDA has insufficient funds and that the Select Committee reported unanimously in favour of a rural development fund? Will he give a very high priority to providing more jobs in the rural areas of Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

If it were to be established, the rural fund would simply utilise existing funds that go to the rural areas from other sources of public expenditure. This year the total sum spent in the rural areas of Scotland on agriculture, fishing, forestry and related matters will be £316 million. That indicates a very high level of investment to ensure the viability of the rural areas, to which the Government attach very great importance.

Mr. Ron Brown

Does the Secretary of State accept that a rural fund may be necessary for the Lothian region—which is largely a rural area—bearing in mind the decision rushed through by his Tory councillor colleagues who insisted that the Edinburgh relief road should be built and that its cancellation would cost a tremendous amount in compensation from the public purse to contractors? Will he think about that deeply and, indeed, agree—surely he must—that his collegues who were responsible for the decisions to build it should be surcharged were for their reckless behaviour, knowing full well that what they did immediately before a local election would be overturned afterwards, and rightly so?

Mr. Rifkind

I am not certain under which aspect of a rural fund the road would be considered eligible, but it was the hon. Gentleman's party colleagues on Lothian regional council who decided to destroy the prospect of a substantial number of jobs in Lothian region by cancelling that project.

Mr. Pollock

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the existing levels of aid to the rural areas are already substantial, even without a rural development fund? He mentioned the figure of £330 million or thereabouts. Will he confirm that on average that works out at a sum from central Government of about £15,000 a year assistance to every full-time partner in a Scottish farming enterprise?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that under the existing proposals there are many ways in which the rural areas of Scotland benefit substantially. More than 25 per cent. of the SDA's funds go to the rural areas of Scotland, as do similar resources from other organisations. The figures that I mentioned do not take into account rate support grant or other provisions relating to the local authorities.

Mr. Home Robertson

It seems that the 12 Tory Members from the rural south and east of Scotland cannot get even a bag of sweeties out of the Government. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Labour party accepts the need for new initiatives to deal with the special problems of rural communities throughout Scotland, and that it intends to take action to divert resources from the discredited common agricultural policy to achieve an effective programme of support for all of Scotland's rural areas?

Mr. Rifkind

That is a proud statement. We must presumably add it to the many billions of pounds of additional expenditure to which the Labour party is happily committing itself in every area of public concern. It is easy for an Opposition who know that they will never be in government to make such promises.

Mr. Kirkwood

Does the Secretary of State accept that there are legitimate legal constraints on what the SDA can do? I support what was said by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), because the Borders and Dumfries areas are having trouble providing the infrastructure necessary in the form of roads to exploit their forestry. If the SDA had some money it could do that, but it has no access to European funds.

Mr. Rifkind

As for the provision of roads relating to forestry requirements, I remind the hon. Gentleman that when Borders regional council or other local authorities seek capital allocations for road works, they could draw to the attention of the Scottish Development Department the needs of their local forestry industry. That would be a relevant factor to draw to the attention of the Scottish Office, and it could be taken into account when capital allocations were determined.