HC Deb 08 June 2000 vol 351 cc404-6
2. Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

What estimate he has made of the likely effect on employment levels in leisure and similar pursuits as a result of farming land being redeployed for non-farming uses over the next five years. [123334]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell)

We have not made an assessment in the terms that my hon. Friend asks. However, in the past year, jobs in agriculture and fishing fell by 12,000 and jobs in the services grew by 354,000, and some of them will be the result of farm diversification.

Mr. Flynn

It is extremely regrettable that there is a continuing fall in jobs in farming, a process that has been going on for at least 200 years. However, it is encouraging to note that there has been an increase in the population of rural areas—four times the increase in the nation as a whole—and that there has been a similar increase in the number of start-ups in small and medium-sized enterprises in the countryside. Is it not encouraging that certain farms in non-arable areas that employed two or three people on a farm of a couple of hundred acres have diversified to employ hundreds of people in leisure and other industries? That is good for the environment, good for the prosperity of rural areas and good for jobs.

Ms Jowell

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments; I certainly agree with them. The structure of employment is changing and some of the highest employment rates and some of the lowest employment rates are in rural areas. The role of Government in the process is to enable people to make a successful transition from one job to another and to stay in work.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

What additional resources may be available to people who work in agriculture and those with businesses connected with agriculture to ensure that the new job opportunities are long-lasting, full-time, well paid and sustainable?

Ms Jowell

There are two sources of help. The first is the labour market programme, for which my Department and the Employment Service are responsible, and the second involves the Government measures being negotiated with the Commission, such as the English rural development plan which, for rural areas, is worth £1.6 billion over seven years. In addition, the new rural enterprise scheme will contribute more than £150 million to rural areas between 2001 and 2006. Much of that money will be available to assist in the diversification to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) referred.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Does the Minister agree that as employment opportunities in agriculture decline, there may be opportunities for businesses in many farming complexes? Will she make representations and give encouragement to other Departments so that there is evidence of joined-up government and the planning service can seek to accommodate farming enterprises that are diversifying?

Ms Jowell

The figures that I gave in response to the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) demonstrate the level of commitment and investment that the Government are making to help rural communities make the transition to which the hon. Member for East Antrim (Mr. Beggs) referred. Joined-up government, which involves a concerted effort across government, is the key to success and stability in that.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Does the Minister accept that the present deep economic difficulty in agriculture hits providers of land-based higher and further education in two ways? It slashes the profits and trading income from college farms and, quite understandably, it affects applications for courses. For example, is the Minister aware that, in the last month, the Berkshire college of agriculture has had to withdraw its course for the two-year national diploma in agriculture because of a lack of take-up? I am not being partisan, but the situation is extremely serious and requires careful consideration from the Department, which should consult with MAFF, the two funding councils and the colleges if the essential infrastructure of education and training in land-based industries is to be maintained.

Ms Jowell

I am happy to examine any individual cases which the hon. Gentleman may wish to raise and am willing to receive further details of the specific example that he gave. It is important to ensure that people are trained for existing jobs and that work-based training and courses offered by further education colleges equip people with skills for the future labour market.