HC Deb 24 March 1986 vol 94 cc597-9
8. Mr. Best

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what guidance he gives to the Welsh Development Agency on the priority to be accorded to the rural areas of Wales in its various activities.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The Welsh Development Agency's corporate plan confirms its commitment to the development of rural areas. I have recently discussed with the agency and with Mid Wales Development a strengthening of their rural development packages in co-operation with the Wales Tourist Board. Details of these new arrangements are being announced separately today.

Mr. Best

Does my right hon. Friend accept that his answer will be warmly welcomed throughout rural areas in Wales, particularly in Anglesey, and by those of us who press consistently for greater assistance for rural areas within the WDA's remit? What resources will be made available following the initiative?

Mr. Edwards

The initiative includes a much better presentation of the very wide range of measures already available. It includes a new grant scheme—the development of rural initiative, venture and enterprise, known as DRIVE—which is being introduced to stimulate private sector investment and to which £1 million has been allocated over the next two years. The initiative also involves the Welsh Development Agency broadening its definition of rural areas, introducing a low interest rural loans group scheme—which is to be streamlined throughout Wales—and improving the eligibility for grants to convert redundant rural buildings.

Mrs. Clwyd

Does the Secretary of State recall 10 years ago describing the Welsh Development Agency as a Frankenstein monster and an extension of Bennery in Wales? Does he now regret those words, and does he agree that the WDA has, over the past 10 years, made a significant contribution to the economy in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

If the hon. Lady had paid attention to what I have said over the past 10 years, she would know that I have frequently stated that I opposed the introduction of the agency because I was afraid that it would be used as an instrument of Bennery. I have always freely acknowledged that it was not actually used in that way by my predecessors, and I have always been pragmatic in my desire to make the most effective use of the agency. I believe that that is what we have done since the Government have been in office.

Mr. Harvey

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the initiative will be warmly welcomed throughout rural areas of Wales? Will his Department consult Clwyd Fro in my constituency, which has extensive experience relevant to the proposed initiative?

Mr. Edwards

Yes, the Department will do that, particularly as our new initiative will have a number of pilot enterprise groups which are not dissimilar to the organisation that my hon. Friend has described. We are introducing these on an experimental basis to bring in the maximum expertise, experience and advice for people who are developing business and other initiatives in the countryside.

Mr. Foot

As the right hon. Gentleman has acknowledged one conversion about the WDA, may I encourage him to make another? Over the weekend he announced a number of increases in factory allocations, three of which are in my constituency. However, we need double that number to meet even our most elementary needs. How much extra money has he received from the Budget to carry out the kind of WDA programme needed in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I shall bear that in mind when I next make my allocations. It is, however, absolutely characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman that, whenever he gets anything, he asks me to double it. We have properly considered and assessed the needs of his borough. I have approved proposals by the WDA to construct two 10,000 sq ft and one 25,000 sq ft advance factories at Rassau, and I believe that that is the immediate need. However, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong to make demands that are not based on current need. He believes that we should double everything, on the basis that if money is thrown and scattered around, that must do good, even though it is not based on a proper assessment of need.

Mr. Wigley

Is the Secretary of State aware that £500,000 a year will not solve the major problems of deprivation in many rural areas in Wales? In view of the initiative taken by the Development Commission in England to designate rural development areas so that they will be eligible for European regional development fund grants, can he give an assurance that in Wales, too, outside the Mid Wales Development area, rural development grants will be available through the ERDF as a result of his initiative?

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman picks on one sum of money as part of a package. The scheme that we have introduced is an additional one, as I have made clear. We have sought to bring together the wide range of schemes that exist—the large amount of money that is being spent by the development agencies, the tourist board and the ERDF—in a coherent and cohesive package. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to write down the importance of that initiative.

Mr. Raffan

Will my right hon. Friend pass on to the WDA the thanks of the borough of Delyn for the funding that the agency has provided to prepare a No. 1 site at Greenfield for new factory units? At the same time, will he ask the agency to explore all possible means to provide advance factory units at Prestatyn where the unemployment rate is now almost as high as it is in Delyn?

Mr. Edwards

I note what my hon. Friend said, and I shall see that it is considered by the WDA.

Dr. Roger Thomas

There is a general welcome for the improvement and strengthening of the WDA's hand on rural areas, but has not the Mid Wales Development got a long lead for grants for rural areas in Wales? For too long we have had first and second-class rural areas. Would it not have been better to extend the boundaries of the Mid Wales Development?

Mr. Edwards

No. We considered carefully whether to extend the boundaries and we concluded that the best way to proceed was to improve the arrangements that the WDA can make under its already extensive powers and allow Mid Wales Development to concentrate on its task in the area that was designated by the previous Government. The two agencies working together with the Wales Tourist Board can put a coherent package together.

I want to check on the position with regard to the ERDF and I shall write to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley).

Mr. Geraint Howells

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman one more question to clarify the financial position? How much extra financial aid will be given to the Development Board for Rural Wales, how much for the WDA and how much for the Wales Tourist Board?

Mr. Edwards

The announcement of the rural package does not affect the overall financial provision that has been made and is being announced in the usual way for the agencies. What is specific in the rural package is the new DRIVE scheme, for which £1 million has been allocated for a particular set of grants. As the hon. Gentleman is also aware, the total resources of the WDA do not come simply from grant, but from receipts, and they make up almost half the total. Therefore, it is the total budget that is available to the agencies that is important in considering the resources that can be devoted during a particular year.

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