§ Order for Second Reading read.8.19 pm
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hunt)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The purpose of the Bill, as effected by clause 1, is to increase the statutory financial limit for the Development Board for Rural Wales from the present level of £100 million to £175 million. It may assist the House if I explain the background to the limit.
The Development of Rural Wales Act 1976 set a limit of £25 million, which was raised to £40 million in 1980 and further increased to its current level of £100 million by the Industry Act 1981. At the end of the current financial year, expenditure counting against the financial limit will he some £90 million. Present forecasts suggest, therefore, that the limit will be reached during the 1991–92 financial year. It is therefore necessary to raise it now so as not to inhibit the development board's contribution to the redevelopment of that region in Wales for which it is responsible.
The development board's key objective is the expansion and diversification of the economy of mid-Wales. Its area covers the district of Ceredigion in Dyfed, Meirionnydd in Gwynedd and all three districts of Powys, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Brecon. The area covers some 40 per cent. of Wales. About 8 per cent. of the Welsh population reside in it and, according to the mid-year estimates, since 1981 the number has risen from 203,100 to the 1988 level of 213,500.
There is little doubt that a winning pace has been set for the economic and social development of mid-Wales. During 1989–90, more than 260,000 sq ft of factory space was allocated, some 50 per cent. of which was taken by businesses already established in mid-Wales. Those projects are expected to create more than 1,000 jobs in the next three years. During 1989–90, just under 140,000 sq ft of factory space was built, and a further 165,000 sq ft is being built under the 1990–91 programme.
Despite the slowdown in the economy, factory allocations in mid-Wales have shown an increase on the first six months of last year. About 57 units, representing 182,074 sq ft of factory space, have been allocated from April to September this year, which compares more than favourably with 49 units totalling 154,624 sq ft in 1989. Those allocations are expected to create 680 jobs in the next three years.
The chairman of the development board, Mr. Glyn Davies, said at the presentation of the half-yearly report in October:There is still encouraging growth in the region, with many companies forging ahead with expansion plans, supported by the Development Board's attractive grants and loans.I understand that inquiries for factories are significantly higher than last year.
The development board holds some 473 factories—1.9 million sq ft—and has sold a further 96—1.3 million sq ft. They provide more than 8,500 jobs, in the main for the indigenous population of mid-Wales. About 40 per cent. of the development board's stock has already been sold to the private sector and by 1993–94 it is expected that 47 per cent. of the floor space will have been sold.
The board's activity is focused on encouraging and strengthening the private sector within its area. Its economic strategy is contingent on a thriving private 937 sector, creating jobs and prosperity. With that in mind, I have taken a particular interest in the launch of the board's recent policy document, "Strategy for the 90s," which contains details of its investment plans for the next three years and its increased commitment to the more remote western half of its area. We can have no doubt about the success of its policy on the eastern side, an area which enjoys a fair degree of prosperity and low unemployment. The Government's approach is to consolidate recent success by helping to build better businesses and to help ensure a better life style for all in the board's area. The result will be a significantly stronger and more diversified economy.
It is appropriate to mention how important it is for there to be continued close co-operation between the board, the Welsh Development Agency, the Welsh tourist board and, of course, local authorities and all public bodies. The development board is particularly keen to build on its achievement and I applaud that approach.
Hon. Members will be aware that there are two major economic challenges in rural areas: first, rural decline and the exodus of population from rural to urban areas; and, secondly, the difficulty of sustaining communities in the most vulnerable areas. Unless rural Wales can achieve a viable economic base, outward migration of young people will continue. I believe that we are making good progress on that front.
In 1972, on the night of the census, the development board area had a population of 185,000. The 1988 mid-year estimates show that the population in the area is now 213,000, which is an increase of 15.2 per cent. That increase coincides with the development of the board's policies since its creation in 1977. However, the Minister of State and I are well aware of the continuing difficulties with the loss of young people from the area, continuing depopulation of the most remote rural areas and the challenge of a worsening age structure, with high dependency ratios and a relatively high proportion of people of pensionable age. Without continued net inward migration, the population of mid-Wales would not be able to replace itself.
Our policies help to create an environment in which young people can find new jobs in manufacturing industry, tourism and the service industries, providing a much greater diversity of employment opportunities. Such achievements help the creation of a much-improved quality of life for local people as well as attracting inward investment. All that helps to create a new confidence in the region.
There is little doubt that entrepreneurship has been cultivated and is beginning to flourish in rural Wales.
§ Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)
The Secretary of State seems to have moved from the challenges facing the Government in rural mid-Wales without referring to the difficulties being experienced in agriculture, which have become more pronounced since the development board considered its strategy for the 1990s. What new account will be taken of those agriculture difficulties, and will the Secretary of State refer to them in his speech?
§ Mr. Hunt
I certainly will. I assure the hon. Gentleman that agriculture as an industry is vital for the whole of Wales. However, that is not part of the work of the 938 Development Board for Rural Wales; it is very much the concern of the Welsh Office and its Agriculture Department. It is part of an overall picture. There must be a continuing welding together of policies in this important area if we are to ensure the continued revival of the rural areas of Wales. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in that respect.
There is little doubt that entrepreneurship has been cultivated and is beginning to flourish in rural Wales. I was pleased that last year nearly 700 people took part in the development board's "Getting into Business" courses operated through the network of seven local business centres. Some 5,300 inquiries were handled, 2,000 of which were from new clients. It is estimated that about 400 new businesses were formed in 1989–90.
It was just over a year ago that the development board launched its western initiative with the determination to ensure that the prosperity, employment and business confidence seen so clearly on its eastern side should be spread to the more rural areas on its western side.
§ Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)
My right hon. Friend mentioned the board's success in improving circumstances in the eastern part of Wales. Does he concede that some of the problems which he described as coming within his responsibility exist in parts of England adjoining Wales? The effect of the assistance that he can give to enterprises in Wales can impinge, sometimes seriously, on enterprises in England which do not have access to the same funds. Perhaps my right hon. Friend can give some comfort on that point.
§ Mr. Hunt
I wish that I could give my hon. Friend comfort, but this is a matter not for me but for my right hon. Friends in England. Tonight we are addressing the problems of rural Wales, not those of Ludlow and other adjoining parts of England. My hon. Friend's point is a matter for another occasion, but I recognise that he has had an opportunity to draw attention to the importance always of looking at the overall impact of policies such as those that we are purusing in Wales and their impact on adjoining areas of England. I sympathise with my hon. Friend, but I hope that he will understand if I cannot answer his point.
The development board therefore diverted some £1 million of its existing resources to its areas on the western edge of Brecknock, Radnorshire and Montgomeryshire, as well as the whole of Meirionnydd and Ceredigion. The initiative has many strands including the allocation of more staff by the development board, the creation of more business premises, enhanced promotional marketing of the areas, and the intensification of the business start-up and business growth programmes, including the opening of a satellite office in Machynlleth staffed by Welsh speakers and offering business advice.
I am encouraged by the progress which has already been made and we need now to consolidate and build on this impressive start. The development board has prepared a special rural action programme which will enable the work of the western initiative to be carried forward with increased factory construction and economic and rural support measures. I have been convinced by the quality of the case put forward by the chairman and members of the development board and have, therefore, in addition to a £400,000 increase in baseline provision, agreed that an extra £1 million will be available in 1991–92 for the special 939 rural action programme. The budget contribution from the Welsh Office to the board will now rise from £12.7 million to £14.1 million—an 11 per cent. increase in its budget.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that announcement at the start of the debate. Will he confirm that this is new and additional funding to the board and that it is not a recycling of promises made earlier?
§ Mr. Hunt
I always have difficulty when I am asked about recycling of promises made earlier because I have been Secretary of State for Wales for only six months. So far as I am concerned, this is extra money for these plans next year over this year and I hope that it will give an extra boost to the special rural action programme.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a breakdown some time tonight as to where the money will go and how much of it is new money?
§ Mr. Hunt
As I explained, there will be an increase in the total resources for the Development Board for Rural Wales from £12.7 million to £14.1 million—an 11 per cent. increase. I believe that that will be more than enough to cope with the board's objectives. I have identified one aspect—the special rural action programme—but I should be happy to give the hon. Gentleman any further facts and statistics later.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
The Minister made it clear that he was not responsible for the actions of his predecessor. Will he reflect on the unfortunate acronym for the rural action programme, where he is inviting people to take the RAP? Will he give us some guarantee that these action programmes are in line with modern thinking and that they will be environmentally friendly? It is important that any new agriculture programmes are benign towards the environment.
§ Mr. Hunt
I have two points to make in answer to the hon. Gentleman. First, I take full responsibility for the actions of my predecessors—although not those going back beyond 1979—and I am not seeking to avoid responsibility. I was merely being a little cautious in response to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), which I think was justified in the light of experience. I was extra-cautious so that I did not miss some comment that might have been made before I became Secretary of State for Wales.
Secondly, on RAP, of course I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of those who administer the programme. It is important that we relate such programmes to modern-day circumstances and requirements.
I confirm that I shall take a close and great interest in the development board's package of measures designed to help the western part of the region. I am certainly confident that, in using this "fine brush" technique, the development board will be able to achieve greater success.
The board's primary objective is the creation of a self-sustaining economy and this is being achieved by providing an ever-widening manufacturing base to create high-quality jobs which can complement the quality of life in terms of culture, language and the scenic beauty of mid-Wales.
940 I should like to return to the comments by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) about agriculture. Yesterday, I was with several hon. Members who attended the Royal Agricultural Society's winter fair. I had the opportunity to say some words about agriculture. I reaffirm how vital is the provision of a healthy agricultural economy in Wales. It underpins the economic, social and environmental structure of Wales.
I think that you would be quick to point out, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we are dealing with the Development Board for Rural Wales, not with agricultural policy; but, in so far as you allow hon. Members to raise points relating to agriculture, I shall—with the leave of the House—try to respond to them at the end of the debate.
I urge the House to support the Bill, so that the development board can continue its fine work and achieve the objectives that the Government have set it.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I welcome the extra £1 million. It can, I think, be defined as new money; we shall hear confirmation of its newness later if the Secretary of State catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and perhaps also learn for what purposes it will be earmarked.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's identification of the major problems—not least rural decline, the exodus and the difficulty of sustaining communities. The former chairman, Mr. Leslie Morgan, did some very good work, and I think that rural Wales will also miss the work of Dr. Iain Skewis, whom I knew for many years. I understand that the new chairman is making himself very accessible, and trying to be helpful to Members. Much good work has been done and is still being done, and we shall continue to support and encourage the board in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman.
I remind the House that it was a Labour Government who enacted the legislation to set up the board——
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
Will my hon. Friend also remind the Secretary of State that, had it not been for the work of his predecessors before 1979, he would not be at the Dispatch Box this evening, announcing the granting of this welcome new money?
§ Mr. Jones
My hon. Friend has a long memory; he is also a skilled parliamentarian. He knows that, when the Bill to set up the Development Board for Rural Wales was in Committee, the attitude of the then Opposition—the right hon. Gentleman's party—was less than encouraging, and the stance and style of the then hon. Member for Pembroke—now Lord Crickhowell—less than welcoming. Perhaps it was the effect of the hot summer; he was occasionally choleric.
From my perusal of Hansard, I note that members of the Committee included the hon. Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas). Time has passed: some of the others have retired, some have died and some have been ennobled. It was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), however, who conceived the measure and pushed it through. Perhaps his inspiration was the great Mr. Jim Griffiths.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I recollect that the board was conceived in Llandyssul by Viscount Tonypandy, at a particularly difficult time—the time of the 1970 general election.
§ Mr. Jones
The identification of my former right hon. Friend Viscount Tonypandy with the conception of legislation is indeed apposite. I remember the welcome that the hon. Gentleman gave the measure: he used the word "unique".
The Bill concerns such towns as Blaenau Ffestiniog, Newtown, Welshpool, Llandidrod Wells, Builth Wells, Brecon, Rhyader, Aberystwyth, Penrhyndeudraeth, Llanfyllin, Hay, Crickhowell and Ystradgynlais. These are small, isolated and beautiful towns, and their citizens, whose quality and standard of living we are now to debate, are some of the finest citizens in the British Isles. All is not well; the position is not exactly as the Secretary of State described it. Given the present rate of increase—on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—the £100 million limit will probably be reached in 1991–92. More money is therefore needed if the current plans for the funding of the board next year are to proceed: that is why we are here, and why we want to give a fair wind to the Bill.
An increase in the financial limit, however, will not of itself provide any guide to the future level of expenditure or Government funding. I hope that the Secretary of State does speak later, so that we may hear about the various headings under which he intends the new money to be spent.
Page 23 of the annual report draws attention to continued high interest rates, and to the uncertainty of national economic indicators. Page 24 emphasises that the availability of more land that can be developed to meet future needs is an urgent priority; from my reading of the report, I judge that there is a problem there. It also refers to an acute housing shortage in the area of the board's jurisdiction. Another sobering passage refers to the effects of a tightening economy and to business failures. I feel that I should stress that, given that the Secretary of State chose to present the position in the best possible light—as he is, of course, entitled to do. I hope that the Government can assist the board by meeting these difficult challenges.
Rural Wales needs to hold on to its young people. It needs more, and lasting, job opportunities; it needs stronger and more diverse businesses; it needs a better transport infrastructure; and it demonstrably needs more help from the Government. It needs much more support and much more leadership. I hope that the Bill will mean positive change.
The new money relates to the board's priorities, which should be emphasised again and again. We need to target manufacturing industry—the board refers to "focus development". It also mentions the creation, or maintenance of 1,500 jobs a year. I welcome the news of the new Machynlleth office and the co-operation that has taken place with other bodies; I also welcome the special action in the west. Those are laudable objectives and I think that the Bill will help to achieve them.
I hope that ministerial financial backing will improve communications in Wales. I see Powys as the bridge between north and south Wales; without a shadow of a doubt, there is a pressing need for improved road links between north and south. The journey time is appalling, as 942 the Secretary of State has found out, and he may agree that the quality of the roads between the two great communities is also unacceptable.
I think that the north-south link militates against bringing the two Wales together. Better road links would mean better social, cultural and economic links. A good link would help to unify Wales and we want more unity there. The country faces many challenges, not least those of 1992, the channel tunnel, the bewildering changes in eastern Europe and the many changes presaged in the Common Market.
We need to end the near permanent division of Wales caused by poor communications. A better road would lead to more unity. As the end of the century draws near and after the receipt of £87 billion worth of North sea oil revenue, we still have not improved the communications between north and south Wales. That is not good enough. The Secretary of State should devise a strategy as soon as possible.
I also hope that the Bill will help the many low-paid workers in rural Wales. Rural Wales has a low pay problem every bit as bad as that in the industrialised south and north of Wales. Powys is the heart of rural Wales and I am sorry to tell the House that it has the highest proportion of very low paid manual workers in Wales. The House will not like the statistics that I have obtained from the Library's research division. They show that the average gross normal weekly earnings of workers in Powys was £220, compared with a Welsh average of £258 and a national average of £295. The Library statistics show that the average for Powys was the lowest among the Welsh counties.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)
Is it not odd that over the past five years the Welsh Office statisticians have been unable to publish the figures and the hon. Gentleman had to go to the Library to get them to expose the low wages in Powys?
§ Mr. Jones
I warmly agree with the hon. Gentleman. So far as these matters are concerned, the extreme modesty of the Welsh Office is curiouser and curiouser. In April 1990, 36 per cent. of male employees in Powys earned under £180 a week compared to 26 per cent. in Wales and 19 per cent. in Great Britain as a whole. The situation is even worse than that. Only 12 per cent. of male employees in Powys earned more than £320 compared to 22 per cent. for Wales as a whole and 31 per cent. in Great Britain. The ratio for Powys was the lowest among the Welsh counties.
Among full-time male employees reporting normal weekly hours, the average hourly earnings in Powys were £5.18 in comparison to the Welsh average of £5.95 and the national average of £6.89. Again, the figure for Powys was the lowest among the Welsh counties.
The Government have had almost 12 years of office and those incredible statistics have had to be dragged out of them. That is a disgrace. I hope that the Government Front-Bench spokesman will respond to that and tell us what policies the Government will follow.
§ Mr. Jones
No, sit down.
The rural economy faces immense challenges in the short term as a result of the Government's economic mismanagement and in the longer term from the uncertain future facing farming. The upland farmer needs urgent help. He faces a genuine and deepening crisis. Does anything in this legislation offer help to the upland farmer? He struggles alone with his family in an inhospitable climate at considerable altitude for little profit, but with much physical hard work. Those farmers can only raise sheep. There is no alternative.
The National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales have told me about the plight of their members. I have met them and they were convincing. If that farming community does not receive help, it will be bankrupt. If the family farm folds, so will the village garage, the village shop, the village school, the village surgery and the village carrier. Communities in that part of Wales which are centuries old are now at risk. This is an unhappy time and for once perhaps the poetry of R. S. Thomas may be appropriate. Certainly "bitter is the taste".
Will this legislation spark an imaginative and practical response from the Government? So far the Government have been lethargic and evasive on those issues. This debate is about a way of life, a culture, a language and a landscape which are at risk and under severe pressure. As the common agricultural policy is dismantled, 'Welsh Office Ministers should produce a regime to sustain the upland population.
Why has the Secretary of State not been to Brussels to fight his corner for those communities? When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon was Secretary of State, he went, did his best and was successful. I remember my journey to Brussels with the then Minister of Agriculture, the late Mr. John Silkin. We were also successful and we kept the milk marketing board in being.
How sorry I am to see the predicament facing the Secretary of State. He backed the wrong horse in the leadership stakes. Clearly he has been under the spell of his still substantial colleague, the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), the former Secretary of State. Perhaps his colleague threw some dust in his eyes or gave him one of the many press releases that he produced when he was Secretary of State. I am sorry to note the right hon. Gentleman's predicament. I remind him that yesterday he said:The best person has won and we are all united behind John Major".I should like the right hon. Gentleman to set the record straight because the Western Mail states:Mr. Poll Tax Hunt backs Heseltine".That was one day, but the next day the right hon. Gentleman said that the best person had won. Well, has the best person won? The Secretary of State and his team did not vote for the best man——
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. We can all have a little fun with these matters, but 944 the hon. Gentleman is straying a long way from the Bill. I am very tolerant, but I am sure that he will come back to his text.
§ Mr. Barry Jones
A charmingly made point, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall obey your silken stricture and conclude simply by saying, "O ye of little faith," in the knowledge that other right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak.
My criticism is not of the board. It is doing its job effectively and with dedication. My criticism is of the ministerial team. Clearly, there is a lack of direction and, because of the Ministers, rural Wales is missing out at a time of crisis. Farming is facing major challenges. The employment scene is fragile. The schools service, the health service and the transport service are all buckling under the intense pressure. The poll tax is proving oppressive to our people. It is blighting their lives. The Bill is a stark reminder that Ministers must face up their responsibilities. I insist that they devise a strategy that will lead to success in rural Wales. I want them to give a lead, but so far they have failed.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) should know all about backing the wrong horse. He was the parliamentary private secretary to the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), who—
§ Mr. Raffan
Exactly. I could not agree with you more, Madam Deputy Speaker and I am delighted to hear that. That was my one sentence on the subject. I could not resist the temptation of knifing the hon. Gentleman good and proper.
I shall speak only briefly, because my constituency is not covered by the Development Board for Rural Wales. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) for the dispensation so generously given. My excuse for making this brief speech is that, together with other hon. Members present in the Chamber, as a member of the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs I have, on several occasions, taken oral evidence from the DBRW. I join the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside in paying tribute to its previous chairman, Mr. Leslie Morgan, and to Dr. Jain Skewis, who is a fellow Scotsman. We are everywhere in Wales. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman agrees that Scotsmen do such good work in the Principality. I pay tribute also to Mr. Glyn Davies, the new chairman of the DBRW.
I shall refer later to the Select Committee hearings of 9 May 1988 at Powys castle, which the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will remember. That was the first time that I met Mr. Glyn Davies, who was then the chairman of the finance committee on Montgomeryshire district council. He is an impressive character, who has been extremely energetic in his post as chairman of the development board.
I want to outline the problem of how we define "rural Wales", a problem which arose again and again in the Select Committee. The DBRW has a synonym—it is the acronym MWD—because the Development Board for Rural Wales is also known as Mid Wales Development. 945 Indeed, the previous chairman consistently referred to that body as Mid Wales Development, but the Bill is entitled the "Development Board for Rural Wales Bill".
In those Select Committee hearings at Powys castle on 9 May 1988, Mr. Leslie Morgan, the then chairman, made it clear that he preferred being described as the chairman of Mid Wales Development. He did not regard that organisation as purely a rural body because he would then be faced with an odious comparison as the country cousin of the Welsh Development Agency. Mr. Morgan wanted his organisation to be seen as a regional development agency. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will address the real problem of defining rural Wales because there is confusion. The DBRW's boundaries are not and cannot be as clear as those of the Highlands and Islands Development Board in Scotland. Some of the worst unemployment spots in rural Wales lie outside the boundaries of the board. That means that rural areas outside the DBRW boundary do not have equal treatment when compared with the rural areas within it.
There are two ways of dealing with that problem. One way is to review the boundaries of the board. In hearings of the Select Committee the previous chairman said that he was keen that there should be a detailed review of its boundaries. I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seriously to consider that. The chairman was keen to see the boundaries reviewed, provided that his resources would be increased as the boundaries were extended. He was not keen to see his boundaries extended if his resources remained the same.
I have read a document, which I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has seen, produced by the Institute of Welsh Affairs. The institute does some valuable studies not only for Members of Parliament but for everybody in the Principality. It has produced an interesting study entitled "Rural Wales". It tackled the definition of the rural parts of the Principality. I shall not go into that in too much detail, but basically, although it is a statement of the obvious, the document classed rural Wales asexcluding industrial or urban South Wales and North-East Wales, whilst using district council boundaries to delineate rural Wales.The institute preferred to use district council boundaries because that allowed the use of official statistics, which clearly are important. It defined rural Wales as:Colwyn, Glyndwr and Rhuddlan in Clywd"—I was somewhat surprised at the inclusion of Rhuddlan, but I go along with it because the institute has studied the matter much more than I have—Dyfed except Llanelli plus Gwynedd and Powys.If we are to stick to a definition of the DBRW as representing rural Wales, we must consider a review of the boundaries. If not, the way in which the Welsh Development Agency deals with rural Wales must be reviewed. That is important because, as the then chairman of the board, Leslie Morgan, said in a hearing two years ago implying a criticism of the performance of the Welsh Development Agency:It requires an act of will and decision from the WDA to determine that it will do more in its rural areas.I represent a constituency which is predominantly urban, although it appears rural. A good two thirds of my electorate reside in towns. However, we have many of the problems that confront rural areas more severely. As my 946 right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will know, we have experienced one particular problem recently. I pay tribute to him for his quick help and speedy action following the proposal to close the Laura Ashley factory at Leeswood. [ Interruption.] I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, having opened the debate, would listen to the speeches. It would be polite if, instead of chatting to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek), he would listen to what I have to say. I am making a constructive point. It is not a party point. I am not making a party political broadcast, as he did. I am seeking to contribute to the debate on rural Wales. I believe that it is valuable. He is good at plagiarising. Who knows?—he might put my ideas in his next manifesto.
Now that I have the attention of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, I refer him to the Laura Ashley closure at Leeswood. I am particularly grateful that he is paying attention because, of the 330 who were made redundant at the factory, more than half are resident in his constituency, as he will be aware. That is why I was rather surprised that he was chatting and not paying attention. I should have thought that he would be worried about electors in his constituency being made unemployed.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for what he did in the event of the closure. He moved speedily. He got in touch with the Welsh Development Agency chairman, Dr. Gwyn Jones, whom I subsequently met to see what could be done to help the area. Although only about a third of the employees were resident in my constituency, one relatively small community, Leeswood—a former mining village—had 62 residents employed there. When 62 people in a relatively small community lose their jobs it hits the community hard.
My worries about the overlap and lack of clear definition of the roles of the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency are illustrated in examples such as that of the Laura Ashley closure. Expertise in dealing with rural affairs lies predominantly with the Development Board for Rural Wales. It is particularly good at and has a long experience and history of establishing starter units in rural areas to tackle rural unemployment, which can hit small communities hard. I am not certain that the same kind of expertise exists within the WDA. I am not seeking to criticise the agency, which does a good job in many ways, but hon. Members such as myself, whose constituencies are not covered by the development board, are concerned.
We believe that the constituencies of the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile)—I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member is not present, but I am sure that he has good reason to be absent on this important occasion for his constituency—which are covered by the DBRW, have two bites of the cherry in terms of industrial development in their areas and the steps that can be taken to tackle rural unemployment and depopulation. Those of us whose constituencies contain rural areas, but which are not covered by the board, do not have the opportunity to enjoy such two-tier treatment.
§ Dr. Thomas
I am following the speech of the hon. Gentleman with great interest, especially his analysis of the interface between the two agencies and the fact that the WDA has a rural arm. What is the hon. Gentleman's 947 thinking in terms of medium and long-term development? Does he envisage that the DBRW will take in the whole of rural Wales, as normally defined by the Welsh Office, or does he believe that the rural arm of the WDA will take over from the DBRW?
§ Mr. Raffan
The hon. Gentleman sat next to me in the Select Committee and he will recall that I was somewhat anti the DBRW because of the two-tier treatment meted out to the rural areas that it covered which meant that they had an advantage in comparison with the rural areas outside its boundaries. Often, these are the rural areas with the highest unemployment. They do not have the advantage of the two-tier treatment. I was leaning towards the view that the DBRW conferred an unfair advantage, but the hon. Gentleman knows that I am never dogmatic and I am open to persuasion and good argument—usually such good argument comes from the Benches behind the Opposition Front Bench.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will be in office for a long time, as it is important that he should tackle the issue of the boundaries of the DBRW and what the WDA does to help rural areas.
The Laura Ashley closure at Leeswood revealed that there was no clear strategy on the part of the WDA to deal with the problem, but the closure had a great impact on that small rural community. There were two options available to deal with it. The first was to open starter units close to the village community and the second to develop one or two larger units of between 10,000 and 15,000 sq ft at the Nercwys road industrial park estate near Mold, some miles away.
Laura Ashley was a great boon to one rural area of my constituency, but perhaps its location was not the most advantageous for that company. Nevertheless, it was an important source of employment to the rural community. I accept, however, that there is no point having starter units close to the village if they are not filled. The strategy of the WDA appears to favour larger units in industrial estates or business parks closer to the towns rather than developing starter units closer to villages. Certainly the DBRW has greater experience of developing such nursery units near villages.
This debate should be about getting to grips with such problems. I am proud of the fact that I am occasionally labelled a corporatist, I am not a socialist or a crypto-socialist, but certainly I am a corporatist. I would not dream of applying to my right hon. Friend a label of which he was not proud, but the way in which the Government have pursued their policies in Wales is something from which the rest of the country can learn a great deal. That is especially apparent in my constituency where, in the past two years, unemployment has dropped dramatically by 56 per cent. That is a measure of the success of our policies.
I pay tribute to the work done by the DBRW. I do not think that, simply because of the success of its work, it should take over every rural area of Wales, but its boundaries should be reviewed in detail. The definitions used by the Institute of Welsh Affairs are a good starting point and worthy of further examination by my right hon.Friend. I also look to my right hon. Friend for a reassurance that the rural arm of the WDA and its efforts in rural districts are not overlooked, but developed. That sector of the WDA's work should not be allowed to grow stale or stagnate. It is important for those of us in parts of 948 Wales not covered by the DBRW that the rural arm of the WDA is active, vigorous and innovative. I hope that my right hon. Friend will pay heed to what I have said.
I also hope that we can develop this debate on a future occasion. We have few Welsh debates on the Floor of the House but perhaps we can develop this discussion in the Welsh affairs debate on 1 March next year. There are important issues for the Principality, for my constituents who are not covered by the DBRW as much as for constituents of Opposition Members who are.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
I welcome the Bill and the marginal additional spending power that it provides for the Development Board for Rural Wales which, over the years, has done some good work. As the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks, it covers 40 per cent. of Wales's land mass, but only 8 per cent. of its population. Sheep outnumber people by 20 to one. The Bill comes before us on the first day of a new Prime Minister's term of office and at a time when the country is moving deeper into recession, with Wales, as usual, at the sharp end. The additional scope for the Development Board of Rural Wales is a mere flea bite, welcome though it is.
We must face the fact that the unhappy state of the British economy has a major detrimental effect on rural Wales. In housing, mortgage rates stand at about 14.5 per cent.—an extraordinarily high rate that is way above that which ordinary people living in mid-Wales can afford. Is it any wonder that young people pack up and go? Empty houses are left for better-off people, usually from across the border, who often turn them into holiday homes and, in the process, Welsh culture and language are undermined. The solution to that problem lies in the Government's hands and, presumably, they are at least recognising the problem by giving this small extra funding for the Development Board for Rural Wales.
Some people cross the border into mid-Wales as permanent residents. They should be given a traditional Welsh welcome, but I get a bit nauseated when some of them start bellyaching when their children are taught Welsh at school. Surely that is what they should expect when they come to live in Wales.
Rural Wales has tended to rely on agriculture which, over the years, has shed many jobs. Consequently, the depopulation of that region has been quite dramatic. From 1891 to 1981, the population of mid-Wales fell by 23,500, whereas the total population of Wales in the same period increased by 1 million. The mid-Wales population decreased from 12.6 per cent. of the Welsh population in 1891 to only 7.2 per cent. in 1981. That shows a fall in absolute and relative terms.
The big issue of jobs is essentially what the rural development board is all about. I said earlier that the board had done some good work. For instance, since 1977 it is reckoned to have created 12,000 much-needed jobs. However, Mr. Glyn Davies, the board's chairman, recently said that the prosperity of mid-Wales would he determined by the success or otherwise of the United Kingdom economy as a whole. The single European market and the channel tunnel will also play an important part. My guess is that both will tend to increase the 949 regional imbalance in Britain. In that sense, they are likely to aggravate the problems of mid-Wales. There must be Government support to counteract such tendencies.
Let us look at what has been happening to the Welsh economy as a whole. According to the most recent official figures, manufacturing investment in Wales has fallen by more than 19 per cent. in the past decade and over the same period regional preferential treatment has been cut by £166 million. Is it any wonder that unemployment in Wales is still 6.7 per cent. of the work force, even on the basis of the Government's adulterated figures? In mid-Wales, the partial collapse of Laura Ashley has not helped. Equally, the decision to move the headquarters of that company from mid-Wales will not help to engender confidence in the area.
The new Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, clamped down on the economy, and that has had evil side effects. For example, in the past year business failures in Wales have increased by 4 per cent. That is a spectacular rise. Further evidence of the regional imbalance affecting mid-Wales can be seen in living standards. The official figures show that, although Wales has had a 3 per cent. increase in living standards over the past 10 years, that is only one ninth of the increase that has occurred in Greater London. What a contrast.
Most indicators show that Wales is at a disadvantage compared with other regions of Britain. However; when my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) speaks about some of those basic facts, he is accused of spreading doom and gloom. I do not agree with such accusations against my hon. Friend. He should be congratulated on exposing the real situation in Wales.
The infrastructure in mid-Wales is sadly lacking, and that is one of the principal causes of poverty and depopulation. The rural development board does not have the funds to do much about that, but the Government, through the Welsh Office, can improve matters. British Rail is reluctant to electrify main line services to Wales and passengers on our rural lines suffer deplorable conditions. In mid-Wales, British Rail seems to use everybody's cast-off rolling stock. The Government should show that they care about our rural communities by being prepared to subsidise transport services.
The eastern towns of mid-Wales, such as Newtown and Welshpool, are fairly close to the motorway network, which gives them an advantage. In the 1960s and 1970s, the concentration was on building the M4—what we would do without it today, I do not know. In more recent years, road building for Wales has tended to focus on the A55, the north Wales coastal road. In future, we should pay more attention to north-south road links which could do nothing but good for mid-Wales. The Minister will be aware that I tabled a spate of questions on this matter. The Western Mail, the daily newspaper circulating in Wales, has campaigned on this issue. The road network between the north and the south is a relic from the horse-and-cart age.
We are told that the demand is just not there, and that the number of journeys travelled do not justify such large-scale public expenditure. I feel that people do not make the journey between north and south because the facilities are so poor. For example, I am fond of Llandudo as a resort; it is a wonderful place. However, I do not go 950 there as often as I would wish because journeys from south Wales are so difficult. Some do not wish these major road improvements, which could so benefit Wales, to be made. The same people expressed opposition to the second Severn crossing. They have what I would call a ghetto mentality, but I find their attitude detrimental not only to mid-Wales but to the interests of Wales as a whole.
I have only recently returned from a visit to Patagonia, which reminded somewhat of mid-Wales. It was fascinating to hear the Welsh language still being spoken. Some of the traditional Welsh chapels were thriving—Tabernacle, Moriah, Bethel and so on. People out there have put up a tremendous fight to keep the Welsh language and culture. In Wales as a whole, we must fight for our fair share of the cake. If we achieve this, we shall be in a better position to fight for the Welsh language and culture. I support the Bill. Minimal though it is, at least it is a small step in the right direction.
Mr. Richard Livesy (Brecon and Radnor)
In supporting the Bill, I begin by paying tribute to the late Emrys Roberts, the first chairman of the Development Board for Rural Wales, who sadly, passed away two months ago. He did sterling work in starting up the board and he was a former Liberal Member of Parliament for Merioneth. He has been followed by Mr. Leslie Morgan and now Mr. Glyn Davies, an energetic chairman of the development board, who is using his time extremely well.
I am particularly interested in the development board because I was brought up in rural Wales in the development board area. I think that I am right in saying that I and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) are the only two hon. Members who have been in the Chamber tonight who have been depopulated out of mid-Wales. That is not a pleasant experience. I was away from the area for 14 years, and when I returned the development board was operating there and starting to do good work.
I gently chide the Secretary of State on his figures for population expansion. I recommend that there should be research into those figures in order to show what is happening to school leavers. I believe that a considerable exchange of population is taking place in mid-Wales with some of our most youthful people leaving and many retired people coming in, giving us an unbalanced population in terms of its age.
Only last weekend, a young lad of 19 told me that he had applied for a job with the local council in my area. Brecon has only 3 per cent. unemployment, an extremely good figure, but 72 people, mostly youngsters, applied for that job. I know from personal experience that many people have to leave because they cannot find a job. The statistics conceal a problem. I hope that the universities will be able to investigate further to see exactly what is going on. I know that there is a project to study what happens to school leavers in mid-Wales and their attitudes.
I welcome the aggregate increase of resources for the board. Looking at the board's annual report and accounts, it is noticeable that in 1986 expenditure was 12.4 million and in 1990 it was scheduled to be £12.9 million. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has announced that that will be increased to £14.1 million. At least that is some progress.
§ Mr. Coleman
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the announcement that the Army is to leave his area means that the development board will be extremely important, because that move will cause considerable problems?
§ Mr. Livsey
That is an extremely important point. The Army has headquarters in Brecon and it looks likely to be demoted. I have written to the Secretary of State about that. We do not wish to see any reduction in the staff at the Army headquarters at Brecon. I hope that the Secretary of State will campaign to ensure that a major general still commands the forces at HQ Wales and that there is no reduction in status. In that respect, we deserve a similar status to Scotland. The Sennybridge range of 30,000 acres is one of the largest training areas in Wales and in the United Kingdom. Troops returning from Hong Kong and elsewhere could well be accommodated in camps in Wales such as Cwrt–y–gollen camp in Crickhowell.
I should have liked the Bill to make provision for future expenditure for the board to be increased by statutory instrument. I was told that I could not table an amendment to that effect, but I shall discuss that further in Committee.
I should like to see an extension of the board's remit in two particular areas. It is now becoming painfully obvious that, although those areas were excluded from the board's remit when it was founded, times have changed radically. I am sure that the Secretary of State will have noticed the references to the present general state of agriculture in mid-Wales. The board has said that up to 25 per cent. of the population of mid—Wales is employed in agriculture. In my constituency 18 per cent. of the population is engaged in agriculture in one way or another. The present depression in agriculture and the reduction in incomes is forcing young people out of the family farms. We must address that problem. We need more marketing. I was at the winter fair yesterday, to which the Secretary of State referred when dealing with his worthwhile initiative for food from Wales.
It is important to give the development board more resources to increase abattoir and meat packing capacity. Wales has only three abattoirs that meet EEC standards, whereas there are 20 in Scotland. That is a serious shortfall when one considers 1992 and the European single ma rket, and the ability of Welsh farmers to market lamb efficiently and effectively in proper packs. They must compete properly in the supermarkets of not only Britain but France, Germany, elsewhere in Europe, and even Japan —which the Secretary of State visited recently.
§ Mr. Raffan
I strongly endorse the hon. Gentleman's point about abattoirs in the Principality. There is strong feeling on that aspect among the farmers in my community whom I met recently. New abattoirs would also generate additional employment, and the Government should look at that matter quickly.
§ Mr. Livsey
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support, which the Secretary of State would find widely echoed throughout Wales.
The farming community is particularly exposed in the market place at this time. They compete only as individuals, and about 45 per cent. of the British retail market is controlled by five supermarket groups. That does not put farmers in a very good bargaining position. They need to co-operate, and to establish new abattoirs.
952 I was particularly disappointed when an application to build a new abattoir at Three Cocks did not come to fruition. There were problems about the land, whose owners were not prepared to sell. I understand that the Welsh Office and the development board were able to put up only 30 per cent. of grant aid support. It is well known that on the continent, and in France in particular, grant aid for abattoirs can be as high as 50 per cent., which makes a crucial difference. I shall be grateful if the Secretary of State will closely examine that aspect, to see how the board can assist more in the building of new abattoirs, especially before 1992.
§ Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)
The same point was forcefully made by National Farmers Union members in my constituency when I met them in September. They pointed out that Wales would be left in 1992 with only three abattoirs conforming to European standards. Meat processing is a sensible industry in rural areas because of the value-added employment that it offers. Also, rather than export our live sheep in the cruel conditions under which they are transported to the French markets, it would be much more sensible to slaughter them here and then export them as processed meat products.
§ Mr. Livsey
The hon. Gentleman reinforces my argument, and mentions also the important issue of live exports. Our industry will come under increasing pressure in that respect.
Under present conditions, farming families need to boost their incomes. I know of a number of recent cases in which the single son of a family farm has had to leave the business to find employment elsewhere—not just 10 miles away but hundreds of miles from home. The development board should consider providing part-time jobs to boost the incomes of farming families. Members of the family could work away from the farm two or three days a week, in order to supplement their incomes and to preserve family farms.
The other aspect that the development board has not considered is tourism. That is not in its remit either, but I should like it to be taken into account, and perhaps considered in the future.
Affordable housing is an enormous problem, as other hon. Members have pointed out. The average value of a house in my constituency often turns out be about £60,000, whereas the mortgage that can be obtained on average earnings in the local community is about £20,000. That means that it is impossible for someone on an average wage in my constituency to purchase a house.
Rented accommodation has virtually dried up. Although the development board is doing good work in terms of housing for key workers, it is especially frustrating for young people to see houses that are often empty for up to two years before they can be occupied—it can be a great heartache for them.
The development board programme has been outlined and it plans for the maintenance of 1,500 jobs per year. I note the chairman's statement that 1,000 jobs will be created in the next three years. That will not be adequate to retain a larger part of of the school leaving population, and we need to consider that.
We need to assist young entrepreneurs in central Wales. One of our problems is that we do not have enough home-bred industry. I remember my mother telling me when I was in my early 20s, "There is nothing here for you, 953 my boy. You'll have to go away to earn a decent living". The situation has changed, but there are still too many service industries and too much local government employment compared to employment in businesses. We must encourage young entrepreneurs who are born and bred in mid-Wales. The present strategy can be improved.
I note from the report that approximately 18 towns in mid–Wales have been concentrated on to encourage growth, but it needs to spread further afield. I welcome the development board's western initiative. However, we have to spread out into some of the smaller communities and villages to balance employment.
The remarks that have been made about poor infrastructure are very important. I measured my constituency on the mileage clock of my car the other day. I started from Ystradgynlais and ended at the top of the Teme valley. I travelled 92 miles—that is a long way on a very poor road system. As other hon. Members have said, the system needs vast improvements.
We need to be geared up into a higher-waged economy. Wages in the eastern part of the area are too low. Unemployment has been brought down, although there is still a problem in the west, but wages remain very low. Far too many people work for £80 or £100 per week. Averages mean that it is still very much a case of people having their head in the fridge and their feet in the oven. Between those two poles there are bad examples of low wages.
We need to support the development board. There should not be any movement towards co-operating too closely with the Welsh Development Agency. The development board must protect its independence fiercely because it concentrates on rural areas. As the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) suggested, the case for other areas coming into the development area should be studied carefully. The Welsh Office should appoint a Minister to concentrate on rural areas. After all, they cover a vast area in Wales.
I have been fortunate enough to obtain space in the exhibition area. There will be an excellent exhibition for the development board from 10 to 14 December and there will be a reception on 10 December. 1 hope that all hon. Members present, including you, Mr. Speaker, and all Welsh Members will come along and see the good work being done by the development board. I am sure that when we next debate the development board we will all wish to increase its funding even further.
§ Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
It is a pleasure to debate rural Wales because we do not often have the opportunity of doing so. I associate myself with what has been said by my colleagues from the region, particularly the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey), who spoke of the late Emrys Roberts. As the hon. Gentleman said, he was one of my predecessors as the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. I was able to count on him as a good friend. He played a distinctive role inside the House as a Liberal Member of Parliament and outside it in his enterprise, legal and cultural activities. We remember him particularly as the chairman of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation, a predecessor organisation of the development board.
954 It is appropriate to remember the history of the Development Board for Rural Wales because, as the Mid-Wales Development Association, it initiated the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association of Local Authorities, whose leading light was Mr. Peter Garbett Edwards, another great Montgomeryshire Liberal. He is still very much alive and active in development issues as a consultant for Antur Dwyryd, the enterprise agency in north-west Meirionnydd.
When the then Government instituted the new towns legislation and brought it into mid-Wales in the new town development corporation, the team at the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association provided the basis from which the Development Board for Rural Wales was established.
I am listing the organisations because I want to make a plea that we should not look for too much tidiness in the way in which statutory agencies operate in rural communities. The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) said that at one time he leant towards the idea of a combination of agencies working together. Like many who have a lifelong interest in rural development, I have leaned towards a concept of integrated rural development that produces some sort of line management. After the happy hour that I spent in the Monet exhibition this morning, I tend to take a different approach in terms of broad brushes and concentration. Although different agencies are coterminous and overlap, they can still provide different textures of enterprising and social development activity.
I want an assurance from the Secretary of State—I am sure that he will be able to give it—that the intention is that the Development Board for Rural Wales will continue for as long as the Government continue. I assume from the gentle rhetoric of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) that a Labour Government—if there were ever to be one—would also continue the activities of the board. There has been loose talk in some quarters about strengthening the rural arm of the Welsh Development Agency. That is important in areas of rural Wales that are outside the territory of the Development Board for Rural Wales. However, strengthening the rural arm of the WDA does not mean reducing the powers of the development board and strengthening the overall activities of Welsh Development international does not mean weakening the development board's marketing role in the United Kingdom and beyond.
§ Mr. Barry Jones
I make it clear that my party is 100 per cent. behind the Development Board for Rural Wales. Having heard about his broad-brush approach, I hope that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) will consider the royal collection at the national museum in Cardiff and the Mostyn gallery in Llandudno, where Piper is exhibited. There are good exhibitions in Wales as well as the serial numbers of Monet in Piccadilly.
§ Dr. Thomas
I was pleased to see one of the Davies collection, "Rouen cathedral", in the Royal academy here. I am an internationalist, as the hon. Member knows. I am glad to hear his commitment to the future of the DBRW.
I want to consider the interface of agencies. There is not only the WDA and the DBRW—I hope that Hansard will follow all these acronyms—but the Welsh tourist board and the Agricultural Development Advisory Service, which is the authority for redirecting activity and 955 diversification in agriculture. Linked with that are the activities of local government economic development officers and, more recently, the enterprise agencies, which are working in the constituency of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), which is part of the DBRW area, and in Antur Dwyryd. In addition, there is the activity of large voluntary landowners such as the National Trust and our recently announced Snowdonia appeal, which we hope will bring additional voluntary and private sector funds into the area.
There are other agencies that I have not mentioned, but I list those to emphasise that we have a diversity of organisations and that it should be possible to have an approach that maximises their contribution without looking for a simplistic structure. Therefore, we must consider how we can collaborate on working parties and projects in which the various agencies take the lead role.
In the context of rural Wales, we look particularly to the western initiative of the board and to the activity of its new offices in Machynlleth, which have been successful in answering queries and stimulating interest. The enterprise culture is developing as a bilingual enterprise culture in that part of the world.
We face a number of fairly major crises. In my own patch, there is the future of the energy industry and of the Magnox station at Trawsfynydd. We are still waiting to hear about the extension of the life of that station, which is under the control of the nuclear installations inspectorate. Obviously, we all want to see the maintenance of jobs for as long as possible in environmentally safe conditions, but in the next five or 10 years there will be a major closure involving 600 job losses. Obviously, there will be jobs in decommissioning, which is a complex and difficult technology, but there will be substantial job losses.
We need to plan for that in the same way as we planned for steel and coal enclosures, for which there was a major input of resources. I am aware that Nuclear Electric is not able to do what British Steel and British Coal were able to do, but we need an approach which matches that, and we look for help from the European regional development fund and for further enhancement of DBRW funds. I am sure the local enterprise agency in Antur Dwyryd will have a particular role to play.
We must consider that in terms of a task force and a project-led approach which anticipates and itemises the skills that are already available in the area, encourages people to move into the self-employed or small enterprise sector and seeks co-operative activity. There is a range of possibilities, provided that we are ready in time to anticipate those closures.
I very much endorse what has been said about the need to improve the abattoir facilities in mid-Wales. We must add value to our agriculture produce. I pay tribute to the work of Welsh Lamb Enterprise, which is based in mid-Wales, which has been active in its promotion. We must back that up with investment programmes in abattoir capacity to bring us up to the standard that we need to export our cuts. As I was told when I was last at the Commission talking about these issues, there are still opportunities in the Spanish and Italian lamb markets. Forty per cent. of the German lamb market—there is opportunity for growth—is taken up by New Zealand. That country is not exporting lamb on the hoof to 956 Germany, but it prepares cuts so that they are attractive to German housepersons. That is a lesson for us all on how to produce and market our goods.
One of the first appearances by the Secretary of State for Wales in his new post was when he dressed as a waiter at a Welsh Lamb Enterprise promotion and wore an apron showing the excellent Lamb Enterprise logo. I know that he is already convinced, so I hope that he will put new money behind his commitment to Welsh lamb.
§ Mr. Raffan
There is great concern even in the farming community about the number of sheep farmers who contribute towards Welsh Lamb Enterprise. We need to make the farming community much more aware of the need to market its products. It is pretty appalling when one can go into a butcher's shop in a village in my constituency and find three posters advertising New Zealand lamb.
§ Dr. Thomas
Oh. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North pays 4p at least per animal. Every other Welsh lamb producer should do the same.
I wish to refer to the interrelationship between what the board does in terms of manufacturing and small-scale enterprise and its more general aim to improve the quality of life in mid-Wales—for example, the social development and infrastructure programmes. In a consultancy capacity, the board has produced ideas and has worked with British Rail and other major agencies to upgrade amenities and the infrastructure.
I pay tribute not only to the late Emrys Roberts but to an amazing friend, John Hughes, who for 13 years was secretary of the board and ended his career as social development director far too young. He was also one of the leading lights of Newtown football club. Halls, football pitches and television reception facilities throughout mid-Wales benefited from the social development programme in which he was involved. I want to ensure that such a programme continues under the board and that there is no reduction in those activities.
I do not want any of the board's functions privatised, moved out of Ladywell house and given to consultants from outside the area. There has been concern that, under new management in the board, there may be a tendency to look at ways of moving activities out of house and reducing the interface between the board, as an accountable organisation within the community, and the local community. I want an assurance that the core activities of the board are not privatised. It is not just a factory-building or industrial estate agency, but a social development agency. To return to my impressionist analogy, social development in the countryside is a soft touch technique which relates to the fabric and texture of society.
Dr. Iain Skewis, the board's chief director, was also enthusiastic about soccer tournaments, especially for young people. He brought skills that only a Scots person can bring to the development of mid-Wales. His experience at the Highlands and Islands development board brought into mid-Wales a flamboyant and always straight style. Sometimes he created a bit of a stir in certain local authority planning agencies, but that was all to the good 957 because it gave the board a high profile. I should like to pay as handsome a tribute as I can to his work and the time that he devoted to mid-Wales.
The new chairman, Gwyn Jones—whom many of us knew in his earlier incarnation as a very active chair of Montgomeryshire district council—graced the borders of my constituency and Montgomeryshire with a huge, garish sign announcing, "Croeso i Faldwyn" —"Welcome to Montgomeryshire". That was one of his first actions as the council chair, and he has brought the same style to the development board.
Wales is blessed with many quangos. A great triumvirate now runs three of the main ones. Wyn Jones, of the Welsh Development Agency, brings his own Hollywood style to the job of running a Welsh quango; Prys Edwards, of the Welsh tourist board, has brought his own cultural approach to the job—he, too, is always well groomed— It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting, the Development Board for Rural Wales Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]
Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Dr. Thomas
As I was saying, we have a triumvirate. The third member, Glyn Davies, has also brought his inimitable style to the development board.
In the absence of an elected Government in Wales, we could do a great deal worse. Those people are giving their time to public service, and providing an upbeat image of what goes on in the country. The Opposition parties are not turning a blind eye to the reality of social deprivation and economic problems such as unemployment and low incomes; we are well aware of those problems. However, we also want to emphasise the good news—not just the positive aspects of Government policy, but the benefits of voluntary activity undertaken by the people. Many are incomers—"born-again Welsh", as I call them—who bring their skills into Wales, making cheese in Dyfed, or honey ice cream in Towyn. I must not leave out Towyn, which contains some of my nicest constituents.
Whatever they may be doing, those people have brought a new energy to Wales. It is all part of the new upbeat attitude. Wales, and mid-Wales in particular, has become a location for inward investment of multinational capital, because of the attractiveness of the area, the skills of the labour force and the existence of a corporate Welsh state—if I may take up the point made by the hon. Member for Delyn.
All this is because of the form of selective intervention that we are operating—the combination of public-sector activity on the part of the Welsh Office and the agencies, and the activities of local authorities and the voluntary sector. Some of the workers have been involved in development for 20 or 25 years. Obviously, the interest of multinationals in making relative profits in the location is part of the equation: people locate in Wales not for reasons of charity, but because it makes economic sense.
The reason for all those developments is not only the decision of the multinationals to locate outside the metropolitan centres and to turn to the regions, but the willingness of Wales and its institutions to play the game. 958 I pay tribute to the Minister of State, not just because he has been in the Welsh Office longer than the Secretary of State; he has been involved in every aspect of inward investment, linking that involvement with his work as Minister for rural Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor says that we do not have such a Minister, but the Minister of State must do that job, because of his brief.
We are celebrating the provision of new money—I am advised that that is what it is, so I am able to welcome it. I hope that my advisers and those of the Secretary of State agree about that. We also welcome the additional borrowing power, and look forward to a long rolling programme for the board, in collaboration with the other agencies. In that, we will be able to build on the massive contribution of people like the late Emrys Roberts and the late John Hughes.
§ 10.4 pm
§ Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)
My comments will not be very different in tone from what other hon. Members have said, and I have no intention of voting against Second Reading. The Bill is important for central and rural Wales and the increases provided will be very welcome.
The Development Board for Rural Wales did not get everything right and there were problems with overexpansion in the new towns and the bringing in of too many people from outside the area and outside Wales. As a result, we still have bad housing shortages. Perhaps more attention should be paid to local growth. We have to bring in businesses to help to advance the economy of rural Wales, but we must do that while bearing in mind the local people first and foremost.
I was slightly worried by the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). He said that we need more roads to unify Wales. We certainly need more roads, but I am not sure whether we necessarily need them to unify Wales. It is important to unify Wales, but money is extremely limited. If we are to spend money on roads, as we should, we should do so to help the economy of Wales and to help people who travel to and from Wales and different parts of England and those who travel within Wales. If we unify Wales we will simply have roads between north and south Wales so that local government councillors and officers, Members of Parliament and all sorts of administrators can get into their cars and consume petrol, which is a non-renewable resource, instead of travelling by train.
Roads are important. We need better roads from the M4 into Cardiganshire from Carmarthen to Aberaeron or from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth. However, the criteria for building those roads must be right. They should not be built because of status or because of a need to unify one part of Wales with another.
§ Mr. Raffan
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he would accept what the previous chairman of the DBRW said—I believe that the present chairman agrees with this—which is that the crucial roads to the local economy of mid-Wales are east-west links rather than north-south links.
§ Dr. Marek
There is a lot in that. Roads from Aberaeron or Aberystwyth to Carmarthen are important 959 because they would join that area to the M4, which runs east to west. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside had that kind of programme in mind.
I agree with nearly every point that has been made tonight. Farming is vital to rural Wales. I disagree slightly with the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan). It is not a matter of not buying New Zealand lamb and buying Welsh lamb. Of course we must buy Welsh lamb whenever possible, but we survive as a trading nation. We should be able to compete. Many of us would say that Welsh lamb is better than New Zealand lamb, but we should not try to ban New Zealand lamb.
Land in Wales is only good for sheep. Land in New Zealand is certainly good for sheep, too, but the land in other areas like England and France is good for sheep and many other things. If the agricultural system is such that those other things are not produced, the other parts of Europe and especially England, France and Spain might turn to sheep rearing. If that happens, we shall lose out in Wales. That is my great fear.
The Government should be able to regulate the industry so that we are allowed to do the things in Wales that we are best at doing. There is a serious crisis in farming in rural Wales. The Government must consider that carefully and they must fight their corner in the corridors of Brussels on that point.
I am sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen and want to make two points about the railway connections between Wales and England. Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to make any comments about railway connections between north and south Wales because one has to go into England to make such a connection. There would be nothing wrong with that, provided that the service was good.
The mid-Wales line, from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury, has had a good service, with InterCity rolling stock. The Cambrian coast express leaves Euston at about 3.40 pm and the public can travel all the way through mid-Wales to Aberystwyth in comfortable InterCity rolling stock. The train leaves Aberystwyth at about 7.20 am and travels back to the capital. I understand that that service is to be withdrawn next May. We should be advancing as a nation, not regressing. Central Wales will have to rely on a sprinter service. It can take about two hours 20 minutes to travel from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury, but everybody in central Wales will have to make that journey on a sprinter.
Not many hon. Members—apart from hon. Members representing Wales—realise how difficult it is to get to central Wales. If central Wales is to develop, communications must be good. There is no airfield and the roads need improving. They are not very good and the journey gets worse as one travels by car to London, because the motorway cannot cope with the traffic. We must therefore have a good railway system, but it takes five and a. half hours to travel from Aberystwyth to London.
I represent Wrexham and it is easy for me to travel from Wrexham to London. I can do it in two hours 50 minutes by the fastest train. I believe that hon. Members representing the north-west coast can make their journey in even less time. If one travels to Aberystwyth from London, one spends over five hours on a train, yet British Rail is proposing to withdraw the only comfortable service from next May. It is the only service that business men would dream of using. I believe that the Bill could help the 960 development board to persuade British Rail to maintain the service. Perhaps the DBRW could even provide some extra funding to help British Rail to do so.
§ Dr. Thomas
I am sometimes accused in the House of speaking for the Government, but I am certainly not speaking for British Rail. My understanding is that British Rail is to introduce rolling stock for the local haul routes similar to that which is available in the highlands of Scotland, which is the super sprinter.
§ Dr. Marek
The hon. Gentleman may be right and British Rail may introduce the super sprinter—the class 158. Let me disillusion the hon. Gentleman now, because there is no way in which that train will run from Wrexham to Euston. The latest plan is for the train to go via Birmingham to Nuneaton, then on to the overpass at Nuneaton, and to travel to Leicester before proceeding down to St. Pancras. That is a tortuous journey.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)
I have been speaking to senior officials of British Rail this morning and I can confirm what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) has been saying, and that it is British Rail's intention to introduce the 158s, which will provide a better service, from next May. British Rail is also taking a look at all its regional services in Wales with a view to improving them.
§ Dr. Marek
I hope that we shall have a bipartisan policy on this, because that is what Wales needs if we are to ensure that the service does not deteriorate. The Minister must be aware that the early morning service from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury has been withdrawn and that the last service from Shrewsbury to Chester is also being withdrawn. Furthermore, the area manager for Chester has been told to make cuts of £2 million by next April, which will mean a loss of staff and services. He must know that the Bidston line will be single in perhaps two or three years.
In a friendly way, I warn the Minister to be careful about what British Rail tells him. "Improvements" usually turn out in practice to be cuts in services. Importantly for the development board's area, I am not sure that a class 158 sprinter, however grand, can make up for the loss of an InterCity service direct to Euston. It will be difficult for passengers to know whether to go to Euston or St. Pancras to get a train to Wales. For some services which go through Birmingham they may have to go to Paddington. That is not an improvement.
If we had the money and British Rail had the finance available, Euston could be the one station for passengers travelling between Wales and London. There should be at least one direct train a day between Euston along the electrified line to Shrewsbury and then to Aberystwyth, using InterCity class coaches. That is important.
I do not wish to take too long, but I wish to make an equivalent point about the north Wales main line which feeds into Blaenau Ffestiniog, which is an important part of the area of the DBRW. Again, class 47 engines will be withdrawn in one or two years. British Rail has refused to say when, but in practice and according to the proposed timetable, it will be in 1992. It is intended to replace those trains with high-speed trains. Again, the HSTs decanted from the east coast main line will not travel to Euston. They will travel to Nuneaton and thence to Leicester and St. Pancras.
961 The trains are expensive to run and have a life of only about eight years. Significantly, when they are introduced, there will be no train leaving Euston for north Wales at about 5 pm—an important time. That will have a serious effect on our infrastructure and transport connections between the north of Wales and Euston. There is a case for electrifying that line, as the Minister and the Secretary of State must know.
If the line were electrified, how much would it cost? I am told that it would cost about £60 million. What percentage of that money would be available from Europe? How much money would be available from the European regional development fund? The line will be in a development grant area. How much extra money would be available from the European grant for improving international railway lines connecting different member states of the European Community? The Crewe-Holyhead line is the only such line in Britain. Perhaps the fast line through Kent to the channel tunnel could be another example but certainly north of London the Crewe-Holyhead line is the only one that would qualify for such help.
How many millions of pounds will be available if that line is electrified? Let us suppose that half of the money is available. If the interest on capital employed is 4 per cent., if the cost was £60 million and if half of the money were available from Europe, immediately the interest on the capital employed by British Rail would rise to 8 per cent., which would be above its target. For that reason, British Rail will not electrify the line because it knows very well that, because of the additionality principle, the Government will take the money that it receives from Europe away from its grants in a future year.
So British Rail will rightly say, "We are happy to electrify that line but if we do, the Government will take away the grant so we shall receive only 4 per cent. on the capital employed. There are other areas where the scarce resources would be better employed and we could get a better rate of return on our capital." The result is that there is money sitting in Europe which we could use, but for our silly administrative procedures.
§ Dr. Marek
If the Minister believes that I am wrong, I should be happy to let him intervene. I had hoped that the Government would agree that, because of a silly administrative system, we have lost out. Some people say that three quarters of the money would be supplied by Europe for the electrification of the line—£45 million out of £60 million. If that is so, it is a crying shame that that money cannot be used because of administrative procedures followed by the Government.
I do not want to make a party political point about the electrification of the line, but we should unite about it in Wales. We should recognise that money would be given to us, without any strings attached, if we electrified the line.
I hope that I have argued my case sensibly and without acrimony and party political bias. This subject should unite Wales. When we have the ability to use European money, we should do so. We should not let procedures between British Rail and the Government prevent us from 962 so doing. I hope that the Government will consider the case carefully and that, where appropriate, the DBRW will also be asked for assistance.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)
I have the pleasure of living within the catchment area of Mid Wales Development. I have resided there all my life. George Borrow, a well-known Englishman who travelled Wales from north to south many decades ago said, on passing through our village:This is an area where men will live when crows will die".I have had the privilege to live in a part of Wales which I am so proud.
I am delighted that hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in their deliberations to say thank you for the excellent work done by Mid Wales Development over the years. I remember the early 1950s when it all came about. A few county councillors from Cardigan, Montgomery, Meirionnydd, Brecon and Radnor got together because they were worried about the rate of depopulation from mid-Wales. Many young people were leaving and I remember one alderman getting up in the county council and saying, "I remember the turn of the century when the population of Cardiganshire was at its highest. Here we are 50 years later, and the population is dwindling." I am delighted that, 40 years later, mid-Wales is thriving. That is due to the excellent work of those pioneers who thought to set up a development board for rural Wales.
We have made a few mistakes. I do not blame the Tory Government of the early 1970s or the Labour Government of the late 1960s. The Bill concerning the rural development board that was introduced by the Labour Government in the 1960s was intended to ensure that agriculture came under the remit of the DBRW.
Unfortunately, the Bill went too far and an element of compulsion was introduced. For example, a farmer who wanted to sell a piece of land or his farm had to gain permission of the chairman of the development board. Many of us fought hard against that incursion on the liberties of the individual. We won our case, rightly so, in 1969. I am sure that that problem was an oversight by the then Labour Government. The Tory Government of 1970 decided to abolish the previous legislation. In the late 1970s a new Bill was introduced by the then Labour Government and accepted. We are by now united in our belief that the board has done excellent work.
Hon. Members from both sides of the House have referred to agriculture and I believe that the Government and the Secretary of State should take another look at the board's remit, which should include agriculture within the catchment area of mid-Wales.
Mid-Wales has been transformed. Let us imagine what would have happened to our language, culture and economy if we had not had the board in mid-Wales. If we are all so committed to the Development Board for Rural Wales and the excellent work of the Welsh Development Agency, so complimentary of the Welsh Office and want to see all those organisations flourish, we should all be united in our deliberations. If those organisations are doing such excellent work for the people of Wales, we should have a Welsh Assembly to ensure that they all get together to look after the interests of the Welsh people.
To be fair to him, the Secretary of State is a good Welshman, as is the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. 963 Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who has 'Wales at heart. They should get together and think seriously of bringing forward proposals as good as those suggested by our forefathers for the development of rural Wales, so that, by the turn of the century, we can have our own Parliament run by our own people to look after our own interests.
§ Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)
While the Bill simply raises the legal limits on the financing of the Development Board for Rural Wales, it does not, of itself, give new money. It is right and proper that it should be seized on as an opportunity to discuss the Government's strategies towards rural Wales.
There have been several useful contributions to tonight's debate, not least that of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), who emphasised the unity of purpose and aspiration that exists in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) and others rightly referred to the importance of public transport.
The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), while sounding like an express train without tracks, illustrated the confusion and despair that arise at times of industrial closure. He should address his strictures to the guilty men in the Cabinet who have been responsible for this country's economic plight. The reply to his crocodile tears was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who highlighted the fact that a new Prime Minister moves into No. 10 Downing street as the country moves into a recession which he has helped to create. The effect of that recession on the rural economy has been, and will be, devastating, and we cannot ignore that in the context of tonight's debate.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) rightly highlighted the need for a balance of ages in the communities of rural Wales and his suggestions about the support of family farms and the place of tourism in the economy of rural Wales were constructive and should be followed up. I hope that the Secretary of State will respond to those comments.
The remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) contained much that was unexceptionable. He appears to have time to attend the Monet exhibition as well as lecturing in Scotland and was as petty as ever in his references to the Labour party. He should have more confidence in my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) as well as the imminence of a Labour Government who would certainly not only retain the Development Board for Rural Wales established by a previous Labour Government, but provide the proper economic and social framework within which its work will be greatly enhanced. If he has any doubts about the future of the board, I suggest that he checks the Government's intentions. There is certainly no doubt of the Labour party's intentions, but he is always kinder to the Conservative party than to the Labour party.
I welcomed the Secretary of State's remarks about the importance of close co-operation between all the organisations involved. I hope that he will take that policy wider than he did in his introduction. He also spoke of sustaining communities in the most vulnerable districts and the high proportion of elderly people in the rural 964 communities, which requires the Government, as well as improving the economy, to give resources to the social infrastructure.
The Secretary of State also spoke about the importance of agriculture. Research by economists at Aberystwyth suggests that Britain could lose about 12,000 jobs in agriculture and another 12,000 in related employment. That underlines the importance of the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales in stimulating other sectors of the rural economy to create compensating employment opportunities. The development of high-tech industries which can operate in rural areas brings opportunities but also brings a need for adequate training. The rural areas face difficulties about such training because of failures throughout the economy.
As the Secretary of State said, the board has adopted a smaller scale and more diffuse approach. He called it the western approach. The board also encourages a more economically self-sustaining approach. That is important because, as Trawsfynydd reminds us, large-scale industries in rural areas can have a distorting and destabilising effect on the rural economy.
A recent House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities report makes strong reference to the need for coherence in planning. In its conclusion the report refers to the Development Board for Rural Wales and states that it is one of three United Kingdom bodies whichhave proved successful in promoting diversification of the rural economy and remain the proper vehicles through which to channel public support for rural economy and social development.I emphasise the words "and social development" and I shall return to them.
The report also states:The Government should provide broad strategic guidance on the way in which the countryside should develop. Without such guidance rural policies will continue to suffer from lack of integration, lack of targeting and an imbalance in resource allocation … . There is a need for greater institutional coordination at local level".Hon Members will be aware of concern about the lack of a coherent approach to marina developments in Wales. I highlight that as an example of an area where the Secretary of State should build in greater co-operation and adopt a slightly wider approach than he showed in his speech. He will be aware that the Countryside Commission report for 1990 speaks of the importance of a policy for marinas. It states:It is essential to develop policy in this area, in response to the burgeoning number of proposals received.It is an example of one form of development which needs a coherent approach.
As a result of pressure, over the past 18 months the Wales Tourist Board brought together the statutory bodies and local authorities. It did that with the public blessing of the Minister of State, Welsh Office who commented favourably on that co-ordinated approach. I am delighted that he did so. Nine months of discussion resulted in a statement of policy being drawn up, and that is to the advantage of development and conservation alike. A strategic all-Wales approach instead of a sporadic approach is precisely what is needed in this and in approaches to other forms of development and planning.
I understand that the report was ready at Easter but that the Welsh Development Agency declined to sign the statement that was drawn up, even though it was involved in the whole process. I understand that they obtained 965 concessions for their point of view, which is the whole point of a consultative process. I also understand that no clear and public explanation has been given for that refusal to sign.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues should ensure that the statement is published as soon as possible. They should urge the chairmen of the two bodies to appreciate that they need to become involved as full parties in the process. The Secretary of State should reaffirm the Government's support for this process and he should tell us how the Welsh Office will ensure a sustainable and sensitive strategy that can be implemented with authority and not just left as an aspiration which can be shelved and ignored in the development of future policies.
I am pleased that many professional bodies are increasingly willing to look outside their own narrow or special interests. For example, but for today's debate I would have been speaking to the conference of the Association of Countryside Rangers which this year meets in Wales. Its conference concentrates on new roles in the community of the countryside and the strengthening of links between communities and their surroundings. As well as ideas for looking at working and needs of communities and practical projects, it is trying to developa wider appreciation of the network of agencies and individuals involved in countryside care and how to build working relationships with them.That is wise and practical, and it is the approach that the Government must urge on their agencies. However, these issues of conservation and development can be resolved only if a partnership approach is made unavoidable. That should involve not only farmers, conservationists and landowners sitting down together to work out policy approaches, but residents, local authorities, developers, development corporations and Government Departments.
That is too uncomfortable an interface to be achieved on a voluntary basis, except in the most unusual of circumstances because most of the groups mentioned will avoid the difficult bits of co-operation if they can, on the understandable and reasonable ground that they are too busy getting on with the job to spend the time, unless they are assured of proper results that will mean something to everybody involved, leading to coherent, long-term approaches to the countryside.
We look to the Secretary of State for an assurance that he will not take short cuts or easy ways so that development in the countryside looks dynamic, while ignoring the views and voices of everybody involved. That warning is necessary because the Government have gone down that road, and the experience of several urban development corporations in England proved the dangers that can arise if development is encouraged in isolation from the interests of the community.
In respect of the community and the responsibilities for the social infrastructure, I emphasise the importance of the health service to economic development. This has been stressed to me by people in mid-Wales when I have had discussions with them. There is evidence that it is a consideration for firms considering relocation. Mid-Wales has the hospital at Bronglais in Aberystwyth, and certain issues about the hospital service in the eastern part of mid-Wales need to be addressed. There are problems if people have to look over the border to England for their 966 hospitals services, or to the extreme western point of mid-Wales, Aberystwyth, for their treatment. This is especially true when treatment has to be over a considerable time, and that is again related to transport problems.
Community care is extremely important, and we shall be entering difficult times in this because of the delay in its implementation. These problems will hit urban areas, but they will be writ large in rural areas because of communications and the demographic changes to which several hon. Members have referred. Education, training and public transport are all part of the pattern, but I underline the fact that the DBRW has a responsibility for social development. The difficulty comes in how that responsibility is discharged, and what finances will be available to it. In a budget of nearly £20 million, there will be a reduction in the statutory authority social grant over the next few years.
It is interesting to contrast what happened in the last year or two with what happened under the last Labour Government. The latest annual report, for 1988–89, like all Government publications, is a rather more flashy document than its predecessors, but in it the chairman refers toimproved social facilities that accompany and depend on economic development.Up to a point, that is true, but social facilities do not depend on economic development. As I have already said, economic development depends on social infrastructure. The statement in the accounts reflects a pious claim for business growth to besupported by a corresponding growth in social opportunities.The board's social policy cannot match that aspiration with the sums of money available. It is nonsense to suggest that the DBRW can compensate for the ills of Government policy.
Genuine social infrastructure work and the development of community facilities are needed, not just by means of grants to the village halls and small community facilities, but by means of help for the social infrastructure. Perhaps that should be from the work of other Government agencies and perhaps it should be developed by the DBRW. Either way, it needs to be developed. I stress again the interdependency of policies for development and policies for society as a whole.
I contrast that with the first annual report which was presented to the then Secretary of State, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), which made strong reference to social development powers—much stronger than has been the case in subsequent reports. It said:The board's task is one of social as well as economic development.The expenditure in that year was £250,000 in the first year's part-year budget—very significant in comparison with the £6 million which was the second year budget, when that element of the board's spending rose to nearly £1 million, £996,941 in the first two years. Therefore, despite the growth in the budget, there has been a real cut and a cut in the percentage of the budget in respect of the social and social infrastructure responsibilities of the DBRW.
In responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside with a breakdown of where the finances will go within the board's work, will the Secretary of State tell 967 us how much will go to address the social infrastructure of the rural areas and where his other policies will pull in resources to that end?
Finally, I underline again that successive Conservative Governments have steadily eroded the planning system in Britain, which has particular importance in rural Wales. I appeal to the Secretary of State to take this opportunity to halt that process. Structure plans and local plans have been replaced by strategic guidance and unitary development plans. But the guidance is neither strategic nor particularly useful to local authorities seeking to reconcile the demands of their communities and wider regional and national priorities. It is not good enough for the Government to take a short-term view, following market demands and neglecting the important task of long-term planning.
I ask the Secretary of State to take this opportunity to avoid the worst of this by ensuring that the DBRW takes a co-operative approach in which development is sensitive to the community and to the environment, and to give us an assurance that the Government's resources and the policies that he operates in the Welsh Office will complement community development as a whole as well as seeking new jobs for the rural communities of Wales.
§ Mr. David Hunt
This has been an interesting debate with some excellent contributions. I think that we have had nine speeches and several interventions, and we have covered a lot of ground. We have managed to cover care in the community and the health service as well as education, social services and all the other aspects of life in Wales.
But our prime purpose has been the DBRW, and one thing that has come across—I am delighted that it has—is the respect and admiration that we all have for the work of all those involved in the board and the illustrious predecessors of Glyn Davies in Leslie Morgan and the late Emrys Roberts. A number of tributes have been paid and I thank hon. Members for their kind words about the board's work. We are proud of the tremendous commitment of all those involved.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) asked me about figures. With regard to the special rural action programme, the areas covered by the additional £1 million for that programme include, first, workshops and enterprise centres; secondly, enterprise stimulation, which includes local business expansion schemes, workshop promotion, training, branded farmgate shop schemes, practical research and work with schools and industry; and, thirdly, social, which includes community agents and special rural social development, with emphasis on improved quality of life and increased access to facilities. The precise allocations will be decided by the board according to the priorities that it determines.
The hon. Gentleman knows the way in which the board currently allocates its resources. One main area is running costs and salaries, fees and charges for professional services, computer and estate management, research, promotion and publicity—which amount to more than £5 million. Capital expenditure on land, factories and other construction amounts to £1.3 million in the current year. Construction and site works, particularly in respect of 968 advanced factories, amounts to nearly £6 million. Grants to discretionary and public bodies, and cultural and welfare services total nearly £2 million.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the north-south link, and made what I like to think was an affectionate acknowledgement of the troubles that I am experiencing in travelling between north and south Wales. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State—and to his travels—and to the sharp focus that he has brought to the importance of making improvements all the time through imaginative schemes. Significant improvements have already been made to the A483 and the A470, and other schemes already under construction include the Llanidloes bypass and the Felinfach-Brecon bypass improvement, which will continue to upgrade those routes.
I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), who raised a number of important issues—one of which was mentioned by several other hon. Members. I refer to the synergy with the Welsh Development Agency. We are particularly fortunate that support for rural development is provided by my Department and a number of other public agencies under the wing of the Welsh Office, such as the WDA and Welsh tourist board, as well as the Development Board for Rural Wales.
The WDA recently published a policy document, entitled "Rural Prosperity", and the proposals detailed in that publication will help to achieve further improvements in the prosperity of, and quality of life in, those rural communities for which the WDA has responsibility. I make particular reference to the words of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells). It is important to realise the seriousness with which the WDA takes its responsibilities for those parts of rural Wales for which it has particular obligations.
The creation of a rural affairs division in the WDA is a worthwhile and welcome development, and shows clearly that the agency is cognisant of the unique problems and challenges of rural areas. That innovation will help to provide the right impetus in holding back the drift of young people to the big cities, by providing them with high-quality jobs within their own communities.
Like the development board, the WDA will work closely with local authorities and local people in those initiatives. It is that synergy that will make such schemes successful. To ensure further success, I stress the need—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn—for people and organisations, public and private, to work closely together. I am confident that that will be the case, which will ensure greater achievements.
My hon. Friend also mentioned Laura Ashley. If there are points that I am unable to cover in the time available, I shall of course respond in much more detail to hon. Members in correspondence.
My hon. Friend mentioned boundaries, as did the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North. Although as Secretary of State for Wales I have power, by virtue of section 1(2) of the main Act, to extend the board's boundaries, until now it has always been considered that it would not be right to do so. I recall that the issue was studied by the financial management review in 1986, and it concluded that any extension to the board's territory would merely dilute its efficiency and resources. We must always bear in mind how important it is to focus, and to have a focus. However, the question of extending the territory of the Development Board for Rural Wales is, 969 and will be, kept under continual review, and I shall arrange for it to be reconsidered as part of the board's financial and management policy review in 1991.
The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) raised some important issues, and quoted a number of important statistics. The only trouble was that they differed from some of the statistics that I quoted. Before I comment further on that, I should like time to reflect on the derivation of his statistics and to verify my own. I believe that mine were correct. He raised a number of important points, and I should like to respond to him in due course.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Livsey) mentioned a problem which is hidden in the statistics—unemployed young people. That was a very important point. He also raised the question whether the Development Board for Rural Wales should have a more specific project for abattoir provision. I have spoken to the chairman of the board, and I know that it recognises the strategic importance of approved abattoirs come 1992. However, it has no current plans under way to develop an abattoir in mid-Wales. The hon. Gentleman referred to the application at Three Cocks, Brecon. That application for an integrated meat processing plant at Three Cocks was submitted by the DBRW in 1989. Subsequently it had to be withdrawn, as the landowner was unwilling to sell. I know that the board is willing to respond positively to any approach from an operator.
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) asked about the future of the DBRW. We should not bring forward this legislation if it were not clear that the board has a future, and there are no plans whatsoever to alter the present statutory arrangements for the agencies in Wales. They are doing an excellent job. Very committed people operate within them, and I see no reason to disturb the arrangements. However, I hope that he recognises that it is necessary continually to review their functioning and operation to ensure that they deliver an efficient and effective service within their remit.
As for the nuclear power station, the problem is several years away, but the north-west Wales training and enterprise council is already starting exploratory discussions with the industry about possible retraining of workers, and I think that that is a proper way to deal with the matter.
I have to tell the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North that I know that the DBRW recognises that its remit does not cover agriculture, because that is a matter for the Department of Agriculture within the Welsh Office. However, the role of agriculture is significant in a rural area such as ours. The board has told me that it seeks to build other businesses to help to ensure alternative jobs for those who might previously have formed the agricultural work force. I am reassured that the board is intensifying and focusing its efforts to find ways of adding value to existing agricultural production and to funding alternative work.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) made several points about railways and rail links. I am not going to duck out of answering his points, but I shall arrange for them to be brought to the attention of those specifically involved and my right hon. and learned Friend the new Secretary of State for Transport.
970 The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn spoke of Welsh Lamb Enterprise. As I said yesterday at the winter fair, it is important for the industry to support Welsh Lamb Enterprise and for all farmers to pay the levy. I hope that the initiatives that we have announced will enable us to focus in a more specific way, particularly at international fairs, on the quality of Welsh produce and to get across the clear message that if one buys Welsh food and produce, one buys quality. Quality means a great deal in today's markets.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) made a series of points. I am not sure that it would be a good idea to answer all of them now, but I shall deal with a couple. I recently met representatives of the Wales tourist board and the issue of the marina review group was raised. As the hon. Gentleman will know, in May 1989 the Wales tourist board, with the Welsh Development Agency, set up the marina review group, or, as some would prefer it to be known, the harbour redevelopment review group. It included representatives of the WDA, the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council, the Sports Council for Wales, the National Rivers Authority, the national park authorities, the Council of Welsh Districts and the Assembly—I stress that word to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North—of Welsh Counties.
On reading the list of bodies involved, one might be a little troubled about whether agreement would be reached because many interests are represented. I am aware that it is proving difficult to come up with a policy that is acceptable to all the participating bodies. That is a matter for the group members. I have made the members of the Wales tourist board aware that I await the outcome of the group's deliberations with great interest. Obviously we would like some form of agreement to be reached.
§ Mr. Michael
Will the Secretary of State reassure me? Does he agree that it is important for the development bodies to participate fully and to reconcile the interests of development, conservation and the other bodies to which he referred? I accept that perfection is difficult to achieve, but the process needs all the organisations to engage in an attempt to find an appropriate way forward.
§ Mr. Hunt
I dare say that if I were to receive a note from somewhere, it would tell me to be extremely careful about how I respond. I have planning responsibilities that I have to exercise in a quasi-judicial capacity. When we are talking about a set of strategic policy principles on marina developments in Wales, I must be careful. As I said, it is a matter for the group members, but I await the result of the deliberations with great interest.
On social policy, I agree with several of the comments of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth. If one examines the purpose of a Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, one sees that it is vital to seek every possible way of strengthening communities. If we allow communities to weaken, it puts pressure on all the infrasture, social and otherwise. That is why social policy is important. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that when I consider overall policy I shall bear his comments in mind.
971 A range of issues has been raised in the context of an important Bill that extends the limit for the Development Board for Rural Wales, and I commend its proposals to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. David Hunt.]