§ 4.39 p.m.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they intend to deal with the problems of the far Soutiv-West (Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, in asking the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I have two apologies to make. First, this is the second time in seven years that I have asked this Question; and, secondly, the nomenclature is rather clumsy, but I wanted to avoid the mistake I made last time of allowing the Bristol area to impinge its different outlook and problems on ours. My family have lived in Devon for 450 years, coming there from Wiltshire. I am a landowner in Somerset, where the "big house" is now the Somerset Agricultural Institute. Our Cornish properties, I regret to say, were sold off to provide for death duties between the wars. I am a Member of the NFU, and am currently President of the Devon branch of the CLA, and I thereby declare my interests. My last job in the Terri- 213 torial Army before it was abolished, was as Deputy Brigade Commander for the South-West Brigade which covered Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. I have more relations in Dorset than in any other county, my family having intermarried five times in 170 years with one Dorset family who have two branches, one in Lulworth in the East of the county and the other in Chideock in the West of Dorset.
§ I thank the noble Lords who have agreed to speak on this subject today. My noble friend and neighbour Lord Iddesleigh is making his maiden speech and has great experience in local government, having been Chairman of the now defunct St. Thomas's Rural District Council. I welcome him particularly as his father was my mentor when I first entered your Lordships' House and was the one who encouraged me to make my maiden speech. With my noble friend Lord Roberthall I share three similarities: first, we both started our lives in Australia; secondly, we were both educated at Oxford and he was principal of my old college; and, thirdly, we are both now living in the South-West. It would be presumptuous of me to mention all the speakers as they are all so well-known and far better qualified than I am on this subject, but the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, who intended to take part, has written to me from Cornwall saying that he is ill at the moment. He was going to press for a thorough geological survey of minerals in the South-West. This, he says, is long overdue and he has been pressing for this for the past ten years. The noble Lord, Lord Vivian, was taken ill yesterday; he is another Cornishman who cannot take part today. The noble Lord, Lord Digby, who is acting Chairman of the South-West Economic Planning Committee, has had to go abroad. He particularly wanted to take part in this debate.
§ Wales, with a smaller population, has a Secretary of State to speak for it. I feel that we in the South-West should have something comparable, and that is the reason—or my excuse—for raising this matter again. I am not asking the Government for more money—in these times that would be extremely irresponsible. I am asking the Government to realise our problems and perhaps alter 214 the system of allocation of resources caused by those problems; that is, to review where necessary the priorities. The problems of the South-West are many and varied but, one way or another, they are nearly all connected with the two main sources of income and employment —agriculture and tourism. From Wilt-shire to Land's End, from Poole to Weston-super-Mare, this is the major pattern. The local government problems depend to a large extent on the same basic factors. Transport, the roads, water supplies and social services are all affected by the same pressures. The only large outside interest is in the extractive industry which is mainly clay, and even that can affect agricultural land and the tourist industry through pressures from amenity bodies. Of course, there are pockets of light industrial developments, notably in the Poole area, Yeovil, Plymouth, North Devon and in the developing area of Newton Abbot—Heath-field.
§ I intend to end my remarks with agriculture, in which I declare my major interest, but before that I want quickly to cover the other main headings hoping that others will fill the gaps, dot my "i's" and cross my "t's". I humbly apologise to your Lordships as I will have to be absent for about 20 minutes during the debate, but I will return as quickly as possible. I will begin with tourism which, whether or not some of us older inhabitants like it, is now a crucial factor in our economic survival affecting roads, water supplies, employment, social services and a multitude of other activities, not least the problems of local government and police. The West Country Tourist Board which covers Wiltshire westwards, carried out a national survey of the holiday population last year, the results of which should be more widely known. Some 80.6 per cent. took a holiday in the West country; 66.9 per cent. took it as their main holiday, and 13.7 per cent. as an additional holiday. Of those who holidayed elsewhere, the reasons ranged from distance from the South-West, to wanting a change, of being deterred by traffic congestion and parking problems. In all, 77.8 per cent. travelled to the region by car. One more interesting factor arising out of the survey is that the countryside came first as the most 215 important tourist attraction, the beaches a fair way second and sightseeing third.
§ It is estimated that tourism brings the region up to £300 million a year, and every year the overseas visitors' percentage increases considerably. It is nearly 10 per cent. Our balance of payments is helped in two ways: first, by those who come from abroad; and, secondly, by those who have their holidays here rather than going abroad. Therefore, it came as a nasty blow to the region when the Secretary of State for Trade made his announcement in December about cutting down overseas promotion of tourism in the West Country. The greatest shock was the reduction of aid to an area so heavily dependent on tourism for employment in favour of those less popular areas which have other sources of employment.
§ The tourist industry is worried by the slowness of the completion of M5, the lack of a spur road from Somerset to North Devon, the effect of raging inflation, value added tax, the fire precautions Act, the soaring rates, the increased tax on self-employed, the non-granting of parity with industry when it comes to industrial building allowances, the call for a bed tax or tourist tax, waste collection and what will be the effect of the terrific increase in the price of petrol. I repeat that nearly 80 per cent. of the holidaymakers come to the region by car. Before leaving tourism its importance employment-wise is shown by the drop of agricultural workers in the 10 year period from 1961 to 1971 from 16,000 to 9,000 in Devon alone.
§ Perhaps this is the moment to switch to roads, for their importance to us should already be manifest. We were the last region to get a motorway; at present it goes only as far South-West as North Petherton in Somerset, though we are promised it to Exeter by the end of next year. The delays have been excruciating, especially those concerning the bridge over the Avon. But so far as main roads to the region are concerned, I feel that the long promised—nearly 20 years now —building of a dual carriageway along the line of the A.303, recommended by the Government in a Green Paper, is the one most to be deplored. It is the question most often asked me by my West 216 Dorset relations, and the same applies to those in East Devon as well as those in Somerset and Wiltshire. Only now, two years after I was promised a start, are they bypassing Wyle in Wiltshire. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, could mention the lack of a bypass to Mere, Wincanton, Ilchester, et cetera, before those unfortunate towns get rattled ! to bits.
§ To give your Lordships an example of what this means in wasted fuel consumption, it is three-quarters of an hour to an hour quicker for me to go from where I live in Devon to the Palace of Westminster by the M.4/M.5 route, but 30 miles longer. If that other way was completed with a dual carriageway, it would save a tremendous amount of energy. But of course there are internal road problems which are even more worrying. Large rural counties are unfairly treated when it comes to grants in aid of road maintenance. It has been estimated that Devon alone lost £5 million a year when the method of distributing the rate support grant was altered.
§ Where I think we have been unfairly treated by successive Governments is that the need for roads has not taken into account the colossal influx of tourists. One feels that the powers-that-be have said: "The South-West has so many cars registered each year, therefore any grants or priorities should be on that basis." I believe it used to be called the ERR, or the economic rate of return. I think that the basis of assistance should contain a tourist influx allowance, plus an allowance for rural bus services, children-to-school services and an additional amount to take account of the colossal expenditure incurred when you have to cope with the feeder roads which are necessary, when you have the combination of a motorway coming into your area and a seasonal doubling of your population. On the 4th April the Western Morning News reported the Chairman of the Planning and Transportation Committee of Devon County Council as saying that the Government had made it clear that money spent by local authorities on subsidising bus services must be cut from £87 million to £50 million by 1978.
§ The seasonal doubling of population affects many other services, such as water, sewerage and the social services. Us 217 "local yokels" think that the fact that we can move around all right for four months of the year is inadequate compensation for the fact that we cannot easily go about our lawful occasions for the remaining eight months. I could go on for a long time about better communications in the South-West but will resist the temptation, and will only repeat what I said: that is, that given the amount of tourism that exists, it is essential to have a spur road from the M5 to North Devon not only for tourists but also to encourage the maintenance of the industry we have so painstakingly built up in that area of excessively high unemployment.
§ I would ask your Lordships to remember the long and painful list of rail closures—and the lines which are not closed have not been all that hot during the last few weeks! Perhaps one of the biggest problems arising in connection with transportation affects the education authorities. I think the difficulties speak for themselves. Sparsely populated areas have always had difficulties in this regard, particularly in respect of special and adult education. The age of a large number of schools presents an acute problem now that there has been a virtual stoppage of new building. Only last week the closure of the Outward Bound School at Holne on Dartmoor was announced. The closing of a number of primary schools has also accentuated the rural transport problem.
§ One of the greatest problems facing the South-West is that of social services. For a long time now the region has been a favoured place for retirement. People first go on holiday, and then think, "I will retire down here". And they do. Consequently, we have the highest proportion of old people in the country. The average for all counties for people over 65 is 13.9 per cent. of the population. Already we are over 19 per cent. in Devon, and by 1981—a mere six years away—the proportion will be an estimated 23.6 per cent. of the population. To emphasise this, I would ask your Lord-ships to think what effect the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act will have on our part of the world, where the South-West Regional Economic Planning Council forecast such an increasing retirement area factor. Governments should really make arrangements for joint finance between the health authorities and the social 218 services. I would ask your Lordships to think of the transport problem arising from the preponderance of these elderly people, especially in rural areas. The social services have to deal with a multitude of problems everywhere, but the preponderance in the South-West of elderly, elderly handicapped and of geriatric problems outweighs the others. With an economy based largely on agriculture and tourism, the local wage averages are below the national levels, and unemployment is higher than the national average in many places. Those retired on fixed incomes are being decimated by inflation.
Logically following the problems associated with the social services are those facing the police. The crime rate in the peak holiday months is over a third higher than at other times of the year, and in the resorts it doubles. In places like Newquay it trebles. The police obviously cannot be increased during these peak periods, which makes for another problem—added to which, in the same areas at the same time there is a large influx of young people, in many cases getting temporary employment in the holiday trade and in many cases also trafficking in drugs or getting involved in drug cases. In addition, the improved road communications have led to an increase in gang raids from areas such as Liverpool and London. Way back in 1962—and I have quoted this passage to your Lord-ships before now—the Autocar, under the heading of "A Western Canute" said:
If there is one job I would not have it is that of Chief Constable of Devon "—
now Devon and Cornwall.
His summer traffic problem is terrible.
§ If you realise that over 5 million visitors per year come to Devon and Cornwall by car, and that 90 per cent. of them still meet the same bottlenecks as twenty years ago—for example, the Exeter by-pass— then you can see why the tourist industry is worried in case there is a reaction against coming to the area for a holiday. The police have an appalling traffic control problem at the same time as having an increased crime rate problem. The problem is not only bottlenecks, but off-street parking and off-highway parking as well. There is a problem where the Department of the Environment could be 219 more helpful; but here again the economic climate inhibits the employment of more traffic wardens. Caravans and caravanning have increased problems for both the police and local authorities, particularly the health authorities.
§ I should now like to touch on industrial development in the South-West. This is mainly small, locally diverse and occurring in a number of dispersed areas. One could quote Poole, Yeovil (which is mainly a one-industry town), Bridgwater, Newton Abbot, Plymouth and North Devon, Communications are still in-adequate, but they are getting better. The first point to note is that there are very few locally based companies. English China Clays in Cornwall is the largest. The other main companies, such as Holman's of Camborne, Heathcotes of Tiverton, Standard Telephones, Harvey Plant, and Reeves are all companies where the decisions are taken outside the area.
§ We have seen in North Devon and Plymouth what happens in a recession: the outlying works are the first to close. There are also problems of sewerage and water supplies; and we have already seen the strain the holiday industry puts on those services, plus hospital beds and the like. I myself think that we should not push ahead loo fast with trying to bring more manufacturing industries to the South-West. I know there are arguments on both sides, but I should like to see more small industries grow up locally as more housing and sewerage is available. We have seen how, in a recession, outlying branches of manufacturing industries are the first to close. The same thing applies to technological development. The latter usually results in concentration of production and the elimination of outlying subsidiaries. We have found this locally in many cases, and the Heathfield Pipe Works and Vicarys of Newton Abbot are but two examples.
§ We are almost entirely a population engaged in small privately-owned con-cerns in agriculture, fishing, manufacturing or the holiday business. I personally dislike "bigness". This makes for rigidity, monopoly and eventually State ownership, which in my view is the end. In the South-West we are still practically all involved in small independent enterprises, and it is as such that we are 220 most threatened with extinction by taxation and threatened taxation. Capital transfer tax, wealth tax (on top of high income tax), surtax, corporation tax, capital gains tax and investment income tax threaten small manufacturing units, farms, hotels and forestry estates alike. On death or transfer, or because of inability to finance continued development, these independent units will be lost to the large concerns, or else disappear.
To my mind, this problem overshadows all others, as we in the South-West are still predominantly an area of independent units. I feel—perhaps I would— that the country loses the likes of us at its peril. My accountant from a Plymouth firm said to me in December that up to 40 per cent. of his clients could go bankrupt this year. The Western Morning News of 29th March reports a letter to the Prime Minister from the Exeter and District Chamber of Commerce and Trade, which said:
Unless urgent action is taken now to redress the present situation the inevitable result must surely be the complete elimination of the small business and trading services of this country ",
and goes on again to point out the folly of capital transfer tax. National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, VAT and local authority rate burden.
§ In spite of local government reorganisation, not all is happy in that area. I personally, as befits one speaking from these Benches, regret the increasing departure of independence from local government and the increase in urban influence in rural areas. I regret increased expenditure where we were promised savings. I know that the problems of all local government are being put down to inflation, but the fantastic increases in rates are to many seen as a crime. So far as this Government are concerned, your Lordships will know that rural areas were the first to be hit and the highest percentage increase in the country occurred in the South-West district of Caradon. The rural communities are the poorest, but it seems to the outsider looking on that just because they voted Liberal or Tory they had to be "clobbered".
§ After the reorganisation we all hoped that local differences would be smoothed over. In my own county I was pleased to think that Devon's port should be a part of Devon. This is probably the one 221 subject on which the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and I might disagree, as I believe she is still in favour of UDI for Plymouth, so keeping alive the divisions of the Civil War when Plymouth was Cromwellian and Exeter, Royalist. Where I think we are fortunate is that we are mainly a lot of comparatively small communities. This applies over most of the South-West and is an advantage in that we have a great sense of community. Just as I dislike bigness in business, so I dislike bigness in community, because bigness loses its local identity and its sense of involvement. If I might hark back a little to the industrial development, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, could find out for me whether it would be, or is, possible for a district council endeavouring to encourage industrial development to raise specific loans under the Key Sector scheme rather than through the locally determined sector. I believe that the Department of the Environment Circular 86/74 refers.
§ With the fantastic increase in the cost of petrol, is there any plan for relief in rural areas? Nowadays very few parsons and doctors can ride a horse or have the facilities for keeping one. The below average earnings of all sectors of the rural community should make some kind of relief imperative. Consider one of many cases, that of district nurses. Because the population of the South-West doubles during the holiday season, which is the drier of the seasons, the authorities providing water have an oversize problem. They have not only this water supply problem but also a sewerage problem. The rates are paid by the locals but the extra reservoirs and sewerage plants are in effect having to be built for the visitors. This seems to me to constitute a prima facie case for the Region to be treated as a special case as against those regions which do not have this problem. The South-West water authority covers parts of Somerset and Dorset, all of Devon and Cornwall; and although I have disagreed with many of their proposals and some of their personalities, I cannot but recognise their colossal problems. These arise from the £80 million debts they inherited from the previous water boards, councils, river authorities, et cetera, on 1st April last year—a some-what appropriate date.222
§ With an annual, increasing, demand of 40 per cent. more in the tourist season, with no sign of its decreasing, I would say the problem is manifest. On the basis of population forecasts (which I, for one, treat with a certain cynicism and caution), another £2.7 million is needed to be spent on water supply for the resident population to the end of the century and another £3.5 million for the visiting population. Reservoirs in the South-West is an emotive subject. I will not enter upon this battle today, other than to say that as an agriculturist I stick to my credo, that they should be built only on land of no agricultural value, or of the least agricultural value. We take the same line on road improvements wherever possible. The least valuable agricultural land should be that taken. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, will feel like elaborating on this matter as it affects her local area. On this issue, I should imagine that we will agree and that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, will probably disagree with us.
§ Because of the hamfisted way sewerage rates have been set down for collection, sewerage also is an extremely emotive subject. For a largely rural population, nearly all on their own septic tanks, which cost them a great deal to put in and cost them a lot to clean out periodically, to be charged sewerage rates is seen as justice not seen to be done; and I, for one, with something like 30 private septic tanks, refuse to pay sewerage rates with-out even the offer of compensation for putting them in or cleaning them out. Doubtless it will mean a prison sentence— but what a great cause, sewerage! However, I recognise that the authority has a problem. To give an example, the cost of sewerage treatment at Bigbury is £40,000 for its winter population and £266,000 for its summer population. Torbay goes from £1.6 million to £2.8 million, and so on. I must say that the region here has a special case to plead. To make the residents bear the burden caused by the visitors is, I should have thought, unfair. I suggest that the debt inherited by the authority should be written off and in this case the restrictions on borrowing should be lifted subject to careful vetting on the charge of "empire 223 building", and so on, which has occupied our local Press recently.
§ The West Country has a great seafaring tradition and the past few years has seen the growth of local fishing co-operatives, which has been a success story in itself. My nearest is the Brixham and Torbay Co-operative. Started in 1965 with eight boats, it produced £200,000-worth of fish a year. It now has more than 60 boats and the catch is worth £4½ million, of which 60 per cent. is export, and nothing is wasted. But these inshore fishermen's co-operatives consist of a thousand and one owners, whereas the deep-sea fishermen consist of a few companies and have an adequate representative in Austin Lang on all occasions. Our biggest complaint in the South-West is that our fishermen are not consulted and do not have representation. At this moment a conference is being held in Geneva on which they, I should have thought of all people, should have had representation, if only because the Eastern bloc ships are sweeping the English Channel of fish which should be the preserve of the French and the British. Two hundred thousand tons of fish are taken every year by these Russian ships. I trust that satisfactory arrangements will be concluded to keep Russia and her satellites off our fishing grounds in the future; otherwise all hopes of conservation are gone for ever.
§ Our other fishing problems are common to the problems of inshore fishermen elsewhere: cost of fuel, cost of equipment, and the Government's temporary aid not applying to vessels under 40 feet. And while on the subject of the English Channel—my Lords, do hurry up and fix your oil dividing line with the French! The Channel Islands and the Scillies on the right side of the line, please! Quick, before the Channel Islands are forced by threatened taxation to return to Normandy! Please do not "chicken out" as the French have already "jumped the gun" in their first oil exploration.
§ Problems of the South-West cannot be referred to without mention of the National Parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor. Essential local traffic is interrupted by excessive tourist traffic, and it seems the answer must be in traffic management and control. This, again, would be an expensive operation needing Parliamentary assistance, both legislatively and 224 financially. Hill farming and the purpose of the National Park are bound together. The appearance of the moorlands is due to a thousand years of stock management and it is because of their appearance that they are designated as National Parks. A successful partnership should be encouraged by Parliament. Dartmoor has an essential part to play in Services' training and in the present economic circumstances I can see no alternative to its continuation, although there is a strong lobby for its removal as there is elsewhere —as we shall doubtless hear from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway.
§ I now come to the last and, to my mind, the most important facet of the problems of the South-West; namely, agriculture and forestry. Agriculture has the biggest output in the South-West, although the number employed in it has decreased in recent years due to modernisation and rising wages. As a country, we import nearly £2,000 million of temperate foodstuffs—that is, foodstuffs which we could grow here—and £1,151 million of timber and timber products. That is well over three-quarters of our balance of payments deficit, including oil. And yet what do our successive Governments do? It seems to us that they do practically nil. If the Government disagree with what I have just said, why are there 138,000 fewer dairy cows this year than there were last year, and why—this is even more significant—is the Milk Marketing Board's artificial insemination programme down practically 50 per cent. on 1973–74?
§ I open with these figures because the South-West is, or was, the major dairy produce part of the country. It has been declining since 1973. Butter production has virtually ceased and an Express factory in Honiton has had to import Dutch butter. Rumour has it that Ambrosia Unigate are also in difficulties over supply. The figures which I have given to your Lorsdhips are ample proof that the dairy farmer has no confidence in the future. The situation would be Gilbertian if it were not so tragic. One auctioneer and valuer told me last week that 80 per cent. of the so-called barren cows sent to the knackers in his area last autumn were found to be in calf.
§ So far as beef is concerned, which is my main agricultural facet, I can truthfully say that we in Devon want to get 225 on an equal footing with our EEC partners as soon as possible. A farmer friend of mine, whose judgment and truthfulness I greatly respect, says that he reckons it costs him, with his overheads, £240 to produce a finished animal. The highest I have got in the last six months is £160. I would that my £11,000 farm overdraft could be serviced on the same terms as the Government give to the Russians!
§ Pigs and poultry are in the doldrums. Your Lordships know of the recent action of West Country farmers at Plymouth and Poole in stopping French eggs coming ashore. The antibiotic ruling is surely the most farcical excuse ever given for not protecting our own farmers. In addition, the application of the "Green pound" seems to me to be the most extraordinary thing that has happened, since it operates against the British farmer to the tune of about 12½ per cent. It is a cri de coeur when I ask, why cannot all the Parties get together to create a sound agricultural policy by taking agriculture out of Party politics and ensuring its future? Or is it that some sectors still live in the dream world of cheap food? The Ministry itself admitted three weeks ago that farmers' income had fallen by 30 per cent. We can read in the newspapers every day about whose incomes are rising by that amount. If the Government do not do something rather drastic very soon, we shall be on the starvation line. We cannot produce food for much longer in the circumstances that we are battling against at the moment. Perhaps Mr. Shelepin was brought over here to tell the Commissars how to deal with us recalcitrant kulaks!
§ If in the South-West we allow the water authority to make reservoirs at Roadford or Townleigh, then food production will fall. If the Government go on with their capital transfer tax and their wealth tax, farm production will fall. Who will keep up productivity until he decides to retire if he cannot hand over his land to his heirs? No, he will rob the land by saving on fertilisers and by cutting down trees. After twenty years of grants to encourage farms of an economic size, the Government now propose to fragment them again by these taxes. The noble Lord who is to reply for the Government is a good shot, and he must know what will happen to private woodlands unless these taxes are abolished. I will 226 not insult him by stressing the importance of these woodlands to agriculture, especially in the hilly country of the South-West.
§ Milk production has dropped dramatically. We shall have to import milk if the Government abolish the service cottage, because that will be the end of livestock farming where the man must live on the job. Ask the Milk Marketing Board; ask the Duchy of Cornwall; ask anyone. The extra taxes on the self-employed, the threat to remove the service cottage, the capital transfer tax, the wealth tax and rent control on farmers' cottages are causing great problems. I have controlled rents of 8s., 17s. and £1 a week, and have just rethatched one cottage at a cost of £1,000. Tell me where I shall ever get that back. This is the thatch so beloved by the visitors to rural England.
§ Speaking as a very disgruntled farmer, I wonder why the Government do not put all these taxes together and call them aptly "the scorched earth tax" because that is what will happen to the most important industry in the South-West at the present time. The British Farmer and Stock Breeder of 15th March headlines its leader: "Mr. Healey has mis-judged the CTT opposition". I'll say! The small owner-occupier, the hill farmer in particular in the South-West, is already pushed back to the peasant farming level. As a member of the Lands Tribunal for the South-West, I see a number of them. Time is running out for more of them each week that passes.
§ My Lords, there are many more headings I should like to add to this list of our problems, but already I have kept your Lordships far too long. I am afraid that it would be wishful thinking to hope for a really adequate reply to my Question.
§ 5.17 p.m.
My Lords, may I say from this side of the House that we are deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for instigating this important debate on the problems of the South-West. May I read out the names of the counties of the South-West— Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. I am most grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning Wiltshire just now, because 227 we have always felt that we are some-where in the West Country. Also I feel that I should mention the new county of Avon. The noble Lord told us about Bristol but forgot to tell us about the county of Avon, which is a new county and progressing very well. Before I go any further, may I say how much I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. I gather that he is quite an expert on West Country affairs. Therefore we shall look forward very much to hearing from him.
As I understand it, it is always proper and correct in any debate to disclose one's interests. Therefore I must now disclose that I am a moonraker from the county of Wiltshire. If your Lordships would like to know about a moonraker, he is as good a smuggler as you could ever have for getting brandy from the coast of Dorset into the dewponds of Wiltshire. My family came up to Wiltshire from Exeter for a reason which we do not quite know, and there we have been ever since. We gentlefolk of the West Country often seem to be regarded rather like the ploughman who plods his weary way through the fields, but it is quite wrong that we should be so regarded all the time. Although I am not an agriculturist, simply because we in the West Country are agriculturists it does not mean that all of us are ploughing slowly along the road or down the lanes. In the West Country as a whole, in agriculture we have not only one of the largest industries, but also a very large industry in tourism, upon which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, spent many minutes during the course of his speech. We also have engineering and industry, shipping and the ports industries, both large and small. Perhaps I may add that we are very proud to have created the Concorde at Bristol. We are also making that fine aero engine the RB.211, so we are not all just ploughmen.
I will take agriculture as my first line of attack. I do not intend to go into as much detail as the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, but I feel that a plea should go out from this House to the Government in regard to the serious situation obtaining in the industry. In these last few days I have met small and large farmers who have told me that 228 within the next few days to a week they will have to cut down their herds because they just have no food left in the barns.
I know that a farmer likes to grumble; we all in the West Country like to grumble. But there is simply no grumbling going on now; there is just a frown, if not a deadly silence. Certainly near me a new herd of 145 head of milking cows has just been sold and the farm looks empty and is silent. So we must ask the Government and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to look again at the serious position of the agricultural industry. Before last Christmas good hay cost approximately £185 a ton. I am told that this week it is £138 a ton—if you can get it—and it is said that the corn and hay merchants have not got it in stock; so we really arc looking at a very serious situation for the farmers. I should like the Government to take their woolly head out of the woolly clouds and have a good look at the farmers' problems, which are deeply serious.
I am taking my points in a somewhat different order from that taken by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. He started on tourism and took agriculture last, whereas I have taken agriculture first. Tourism is now a large and professional industry; a great deal of money is ploughed into it and there are many new ideas on how to deal with people who suddenly appear on the scene. There is a new movement in catering and there are different problems attached to it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, I feel that we could do with more money to create more parks and to make sure that the hotels and the lanes and roads are kept within a modern setting. But it appears that the tourist trade is being ignored by the Government, although it brings in a colossal amount of money. Although I stand to be corrected, I believe I am right in saying that the sum was £350 million in 1973. We need to keep the tourist trade going in order to keep up the balance of payments, because it is an excellent source of money coming into the country. Equally, it is useful because it keeps our tourists in the United Kingdom and so their money does not leave the country.
I should like to put one point in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, 229 who will be speaking at the end of this debate. Every year the whole of the North and the Midlands storm into the West Country on the nights of 31st July or 1st August, and such panic and problems are created that for two years in succession Cornwall has been sealed off at that time. I wonder whether the Government could possibly look at a method of staggering holidays. I believe this has always been a problem; nevertheless, I am sure there is a way round it. I believe I am right in saying that the cotton industry in Lancashire has staggered holidays. Staggering could work in two ways. First, by taking off the school holidays a week at Christmas and a week at Easter so that the school summer holiday, instead of starting at the end of July in fact started in June, perhaps we could avoid the immediate rush of people storming the ramparts of the West Country, and at the same time being disappointed because they cannot get a caravan site, or what-ever it may be. The second point is this. Surely also children who leave school to go on to university would have more time to go to their university and find lodgings; but because they break up so late in the summer they find it very difficult not only to have their holiday but to go to their university and find accommodation. Is the noble Lord able to say that the Government are looking into that problem?
I feel that enough has been said already on tourism, but I hope the Government realise that this is now a major industry and that they will not let it slide away, and withdraw loans and money. I would add that under the new Act hotels now have to spend more money on fire protection. Do the Government allow a grant or a loan for this purpose? Fire protection equipment (with which I was concerned for many years) is extremely expensive to install.
Turning now to industry, I have said that we are very proud that Concorde is being manufactured at Filton and the RB.211 at Bristol. Nevertheless, there appears—and I must apologise for speaking more from the angle of Wiltshire and the county of Avon—to be a slight apprehension in industry as to what is the next stage and what they can do. That appears to be a tremendous worry. 230 If it is not one Budget going out, there is a new Budget coming in; If it is not industrial strife in one way or another, it is strikes at the docks so that they cannot get their products abroad. And if the industry cannot get loans from the bank it begins to look as if those concerned will stagnate. That would be a great tragedy because in the West Country we can ill afford for industry of any sort, small or large, to stagnate. We must always invest our money in such a way as to ensure that people are permanently employed.
The population of the West Country is just over 3 million—indeed it is nearly 4 million. That is a lot of people, scattered over the countryside, who need to be employed. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, could tell us something of his knowledge of West Country industry; whether it is safe and the Government have their eye on it. I know that there is a senior Minister in Bristol who tries to help in one way or another, but perhaps the noble Lord could pass on a few hints on West Country industry.
I come to one other industry, the ports, which I have noticed is about to go through its paces under nationalisation or reorganisation. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, mentioned fishing, fishermen and the small ports in and around the coast of Devon and Cornwall; but as I see it, under the reorganisation, ports will come under a new authority called the National Ports Authority. This Authority will exercise central control over commercial ports, existing public port authorities which remain in being, and private ports and port businesses to be brought under public ownership and control. I am interested through the ports in the container businesses. These lie inland. If they are taken over by either the dock authority or port authority, people in container authorities will lose jobs, and people from the docks will be allowed to take them.
I think it is too soon to go too far into this part of the reorganisation of ports, because not a great deal is yet known. I feel I ought to warn those people in the West Country who work in small ports in and around the coast, or in shipbuilding ports, to look out for the reorganisation which probably will come later on in the summer. This has been 231 a good subject for debate raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. I know a number of people want to get back tonight. Therefore I feel it would be better if I left the other points to be raised to others who wish to speak, and I will say no more now.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ The Earl of KIMBERLEY
My Lords, we on these Benches also much welcome this Unstarred Question on the far West of England, particularly as the area is very much a Liberal stronghold. I should like to start by saying that most of my speech will be in the form of questions. I have been given to understand that out of the EEC Budget of £540 million, 28 per cent. of which goes to the United Kingdom, a large proportion of this is to be given to the so-called distressed areas of England. I have also been led to believe that possibly £5 million of this total sum will be devoted to Cornwall and North Devon. I would be grateful for an assurance on that.
My Lords, I agree also with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, on the subject of improving communications. I was very glad to hear him say that the M5 to Exeter would be completed by the end of this year, but I should like to know whether there is any specific date for finishing the two-lane highway from Exeter to Penzance. While on the subject of transport, can any joy be given to the local car owners, particularly in the wilder parts of Cornwall and Devon, and the rest of that part of the country? Public transport there is absolutely abyssmal. If there is to be a twotier price on petrol, can the Government make any announcement as to when this will be, and as to what the costs will be?
Another point—which is mostly financial—is that the four counties in the West of England have between them 570.25 miles of coastline. The coastline of England covers 2,751 miles, so these four counties take up about 20 per cent. of the total coastline of England and Wales. Sea defence is extremely expensive, and is borne by the local ratepayers. Is it possible to have a contribution from the Government towards the cost of sea defence? Surely maintaining our coast-line should be a national and not a local expense.
232 My Lords, in the West Country unemployment shows no signs of abating, alas! At this time of year, hotels and guest houses are trying to recruit staff for the summer. However, at present the recruiting is not going very well, for three reasons. To begin with, due to the rise in the cost of living, families cannot make up their minds as to whether they are going to holiday this year in hotels and guest houses, so the bookings are much down. I cannot speak for the other counties, but in speaking for Cornwall I can say that this harks back to the price of petrol. As the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, said, practically all the tourists who go to the West Country go by car. If we could have some assurance from the Government about the price of petrol, it would help matters.
Turning to the unemployment situation in light industry, in Falmouth there is a firm which makes very good fishing reels. They are finding that they are having to fire some of their employees due to the fact that this country imports a vast quantity of fishing reels from Japan. In Ilfracombe, there is a factory which makes zip fasteners. Unemployment in that factory has risen from 14-4 per cent. to 18.9 per cent., and this figure is official from the 10th March this year. This is because of the importation of Japanese zip fasteners. I do not wish to stop altogether the importation of Japanese goods, but I ask the Government whether we could have a more selective approach to the type of imports we receive from Japan. My Lords, the construction industry also has unemployment troubles. The local authorities are taking great trouble and making matters much worse for the construction industry because of hold-ups in planning. It would be very helpful if Her Majesty's Government could release some information on long-term capital projects in the West Country, such as new road schemes, new schools and the like.
I now come to something rather nearer my heart; that is, the docks in Falmouth. What are the plans of the Government for these docks if they are nationalised? Will these docks be multi-purpose, or will they be only for oil tankers? Can we be given some idea of the size of the workforce? Will the docks be administered from London or Newcastle-on-Tyne? If the 233 Government nationalised the docks in Falmouth, what will happen to the future arrangements for the houses which are being bought by the people who work in the docks on a mortgage from their present employers, the P. and O. Company? At present, these mortgages are costing the dock employees 5 per cent. If the docks are nationalised, presumably the Government will become private land-lords. Will the Government agree that 5 per cent. is a viable mortgage price, or will they put up the rates to come into line with those of the building societies?
My Lords, again on the subject of houses, with regard to landlords and summer lettings, there is a very bad housing situation in Cornwall which is not improved by summer lettings. Some landlords own more than one house. These landlords do not live in these houses, and they are not used in the winter. I do not see why they should not let them as summer lets; it is their business. But they also claim domestic rate relief on these houses, although the houses have become commercial. Perhaps the planning authority would have to be informed of these summer lets so as to give a change of usage whereby domestic rate relief would not be obtained.
I should like to concur with the noble Viscount, Lord Long, about staggered school holidays, perhaps four terms a year, and certainly I believe that fifth and sixth formers could well start their holidays at the beginning of June, as I think their examinations are in May. This would benefit not only Cornwall but all other United Kingdom holiday resorts. Would the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, have any information, too, as to how the grant for the derelict land from the English China Clay mountains is going. I was given to understand a few months ago that in certain areas— I think, notably Scotland and Wales— the grant had been increased in certain instances to 100 per cent. from 75 per cent. I feel that, as the West is one of the poorer areas in our island, if any-where should have 100 per cent. grants for reclaiming derelict land, it should be the West. I should like to finish by saying that I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, about the dairy industry and the tied cottage. If the tied cottage goes, it is almost the death knell of the dairy industry in the West country.
§ 5.42 p.m.
The Earl of IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, it is with more than the customary humility that I would ask for your indulgence this afternoon, as I realise that in recent weeks your Lordships have had the opportunity to listen to many able and interesting maiden speeches. In the main, these have come from noble Lords, and indeed noble Baronesses as well, who have distinguished themselves in a wide variety of ways before joining your Lordships' House. I can claim no such distinctions, except possibly that of being descended from a Chancellor of the Exchequer who in 1878 had the temerity to raise a tax by 50 per cent., but, of course, there was no Social Contract in those days. The distinction comes from the fact that to the best of my knowledge no Chancellor of the Exchequer has dared to question his judgment, and the figure remains the same today. I refer, of course, to the dog licence. In the same year my ancestor raised income tax to the old 5d. in the £, and, unfortunately for us all, that has not stood the test of time.
I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh for encouraging me to address your Lordships, and also the noble Viscount, Lord Long, for his kind remarks. As the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has said, T had the happy experience of serving on a rural district council for some 15 years up to last April, so I am well used to declaring my interest. Although I used to run a dairy farm, I have not been an active farmer for some years, but own a small agricultural estate in Devon and am also a Devon representative on the London and Country Landowners' Association Committee.
I should first like to make two points connected with local government in Devon, which has, I think, been most unfavourably criticised recently, especially as its failings are so often the result of inflation. As has already been said, or as I think is generally accepted, we in the South-West have on average a more elderly population, a more scattered one. and probably a lower income per head than any other part of the country, with the possible exception of Wales and parts of Scotland. We are, therefore, harder hit by inflation than any other area. During my last year as a rural district 235 councillor, I had the honour to be elected chairman of the steering committee that was responsible for setting up the new Teignbridge district authority, a district where my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh resides, and I am glad to say that that new authority is now working reasonably well.
But during the past financial year, the old age pensioners of the old Newton Abbot urban district council, which is part of the new area, were subsidised to the tune of £7,000 on their bus fares. This was a hangover, of course, from pre-reorganisation days. When the new district council looked into this matter they naturally wished to extend this concession over the whole area. To do so, they found, the cost would be an additional £70,000 to be found from the rates. Naturally, in the interests of equity over the whole district of Teignbridge they could not allow this subsidy to continue to the old age pensioners of Newton Abbot alone, and they will now be doing without it. This is at a time when the Teignbridge district council rate for domestic properties is already 27.34 per cent. higher than last year, and at a time whan the subsidy paid by the local authority to the bus companies in this area has gone up from £4,000 in 1974–75 to an estimated £14,000 in 1975–76.
Continuing with the effects of inflation on the South-West, now that almost all the new M.5 motorway will shortly be opened as far as Exeter, for which the majority of us are most grateful to central Government, it is indeed disturbing to hear that the Devon County Council have not been able to finance any worth while road improvement schemes to help remove the bottlenecks. These bottlenecks will certainly occur when our visitors try to leave the motor-way. Furthermore, if the motorway is opened to the South-East of Exeter sometime later this summer, as I understand it easily could be, and the section that takes it over the Exe estuary is not completed —as I understand it cannot possibly be in the time—the whole influx of traffic this summer will merge on the notorious Exeter bypass, with unimaginable results. I am not, of course, blaming anybody; I am just referring to a prob- 236 lem that I feel could surely have been foreseen.
With my previous experience of farming, and as I run my estate myself with only occasional professional help, I feel I have some qualification to speak for the farmer in the South-West about the present situation in agriculture. Your Lordships have heard something of the experiences of my noble friend Lord Clifford of Chudleigh over the last year, and I should imagine his net result has been considerably better than many live-stock farmers in Devon, as the impression one gets from his farming activities is that they are carried out in a thoroughly efficient and well-organised manner. Your Lordships have recently heard only too often of the plight of many of the farmers in the South-West region. I can assure you that those stories are true, especially for those farmers who are dependent on beef or the sale of store cattle for their livelihood. I imagine these men probably work harder and for longer hours, and often unsocial ones at that, for less reward and certainly less return on their capital than any other section of our community. Until recently, these men have literally been at the mercy of the butcher, who buys their beef, for their own bread and butter.
I do not want to go into the problems of last year in the agricultural field; your Lordships have heard them already. Luckily for us all, this last winter has been mild so a large number of farmers have struggled through who might otherwise have given up through bankruptcy or despair. But, as has been said by a noble Lord, the price of hay in this recent cold spell has risen to astronomical heights, and the farmer is certainly the sufferer. I realise that many of your Lordships are fully aware of these problems on a nationwide scale, but I venture to suggest that they are specially serious to us in the South-West as we supply such a high proportion of the country's milk and also its beef animals; and in addition, of course, we have an above average rainfall to contend with.
I realise that I must not today enter into the realms of controversy by going into the other serious problems facing the farmer, or even the landowner, in the future; namely, the capital transfer tax, the wealth tax, and the proposed tied cottage legislation. May it suffice for 237 me to say that the tied cottage legislation will pose a very real incentive, especially for the more isolated and upland stock farmer, to cut back on his enterprise. There is no doubt in my mind that if this legislation is passed a tremendous amount of the good work done by both major political Parties since the war for agriculture will be undone; and this at a time when, due to the other two taxes to which I have referred, our farmers have already given up all thoughts of expansion and, in many cases, have reduced their stocking rates in the present uncertainty.
The agricultural scene in our region is certainly a gloomy one today, and to my mind the answer was proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in your Lordships' House on 6th November during the debate on food supplies and agriculture. In essence, the noble Earl suggested that the Government should consult with all political Parties, as well as others, to try to introduce a common shaft of agreement. In reply, I think the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, seemed very sympathetic and stated that this idea would be considered. I hope that at the end of the debate we may hear whether such consideration has been given and, of course, the outcome of that consideration.
I fully realise that we are a very urban-orientated society in this country, but I believe that almost all of us have a great love of our beautiful countryside. The tragedy, to my mind, is that the image of our farmer among so many of our towns-people is still that of either a feather-bedded Bentley-driven millionaire, or an ignorant yokel. It has been said recently that a country which cannot feed itself is always at the mercy of others. Britain is ill-equipped to face up to this truism. That is so sadly true but we in the South-West, given the right incentives, are especially well equipped to play a large part in producing the solution to our ever increasing bill for food imports, thus helping to preserve the greatness of our country.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I have the privilege of expressing on behalf of the House our appreciation of the maiden speech which has just been delivered by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. I should 238 like, I am sure on behalf of all of us, to congratulate him upon that first contribution to our discussions. What impressed me was that although he is an Earl he spoke from the grass roots. He spoke as a member of a rural district council, which is perhaps the lowest in the structure of our society—I am familiar with it because members of my own family have served on rural district councils. He not only spoke from the grass roots in that sense, but he spoke as a working farmer. I am quite sure that the whole House appreciated that his contribution was factual and practical, and contributed to a real discussion of the problems of our time. I am certain that all of us will hope that the noble Earl will contribute again to our discussions.
I want to express thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for introducing this debate. In a sense, he has today set an historical precedent. We have discussed in another place and in this House issues in respect of Scotland and Wales when no one who was neither Scotsman nor a Welshman would have dared to intervene. The noble Lord has now set the precedent of a discussion of another regional area. I find it a little ironical that in another place representation should be on a geographical basis— a constituency basis—but all the time that I was a Member there I never heard a discussion of regional problems such as we have had today. This makes me wonder whether, when we are looking forward to some reconstruction of the representative character of this House in the future, we may think that regional representation may be a desirable thing.
The noble Lord, Lord Clifford, raised many issues which are relevant not only to the South-West but are national. He also raised issues which are particular to the South-West. Looking forward to the further expression of democracy in society, I wonder whether, in the future, when we are debating the reconstruction of our constitutional Chambers, it may not be desirable to have regional Members who may contribute from their own areas what is desirable for the balance of the national picture. In the future, the debate introduced by the noble Lord may easily be a precedent in those respects.
The Question before us is how Her Majesty's Government intend to deal with the problems of the South-West; 239 Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. I propose to speak about the Southern coast of Dorset. I am not sure whether I have adopted Dorset or Dorset has adopted me, but in either case I have a great feeling of identity with its peoples and problems. This is particularly the case with its Southern area from Poole all along the coast to Lulworth Cove, and the area inland, the area of Purbeck Island.
In previous debates in this House I have raised the issue of the part of that wonderful country which has been dominated by the Ministry of Defence with its artillery ranges. I am not raising that issue this evening. Purbeck in the South-East of Dorset is, I think, unique in the whole of the United Kingdom for its combination of scenic beauty, the wonder of its wildlife, its monuments of past centuries, its ecological and scientific interests and its picturesque and historic towns and buildings, such as Corfe Castle. In previous speeches I have urged that the Ministry of Defence should be withdrawn from this area. I maintain that, but, in fairness, I want to acknowledge that the fact that a large part of Purbeck has been in Army occupation has meant a preservation of its wildlife which would not have occurred under other circumstances. The fact that the Army has been there has meant that it has not suffered from the artificial fertilisation of insecticides which, in other parts of this country, have destroyed much wildlife.
I believe it is probably ironically true that it is in those areas of the country which the Army has occupied that wild-life has been preserved to a greater degree than in parts affected by modern agriculture. My plea tonight is that the whole of this unique area should be made a national park. There is no contradiction between Ministry of Defence possession and the control of a National Park. There is more than one area of that kind. I am familiar with Otterburn in Northumberland, with its Ministry of Defence occupation; but it is also a National Park, a situation curiously similar in some ways to South Dorset—the same wildlife, the same scientific interest, even the same historic interest in its Roman Camps. In Otterburn in Northumberland there is the closest co-operation between the Minis- 240 try of Defence and the authorities of the National Park in maintaining all its amenities.
In previous debates I have described the beauties of South Dorset, its coasts, its bays, its hills, it heaths and its towns of medieval attraction. Tonight I want to concentrate upon the historic importance of this area. Without any fear of contradiction. I say there is nowhere in Britain which has such monuments of past centuries as are in Purbeck in South Devon. The only possible equal expression of this is Stonehenge. In Purbeck you will find tombs which existed in 3,000 BC. In this House earlier, I have told how some of these tombs have been destroyed by the artillery of the Forces. They are also being destroyed by something else—by modern agriculture.
The Royal Commission for Historical Monuments has said that in South-East Dorset only 140 of 878 prehistoric burial grounds are now undamaged. I have not much interest in burial grounds; they are not a romantic subject. But let me describe to your Lordships one of these tombs which has existed for 5,000 years in the little village of Brere Down. I spell that for my fellow members of the National Union of Journalists who are taking a note of these proceedings. You will find there a range of an old tomb. 190 ft. in length, 8 ft. in height and with five large brown stones rising from the burial chamber below. It is absolutely unique in its reflection of what was done 5,000 years ago. I saw it seven years ago. I have seen it since, almost completely destroyed by modern methods of agriculture and by ploughing. I appreciate that we must have modern means of agriculture and modern means of industry, like China Clay, but I want to see preserved for the nation great historic monuments, steeped in history, for mankind down the ages.
I know there are special institutions to preserve historical monuments, planning arrangements and so on, but I submit to the Government that there is only one way in which this unique combination of beauty, ecology, wildlife and history can be maintained in South Dorset; that is by making it a National Park. I hope that the Government will be able to respond to this plea.
§ 6.10 p.m.
My Lords, I wish at the outset to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, on his maiden speech. I have been in this House for only two months, but in that short time it has been my pleasure to be able to offer congratulations to three noble Lords on their maiden speeches. It is always a pleasure for a woman to compliment a man, just as I hope it is always a pleasure for a man to compliment a woman, and I take pleasure in congratulating the noble Earl on an excellent maiden speech.
I was particularly interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, which followed on the Nugent Report, and I agree with him that the Services do preserve land. Since leaving Devon—I am now living in Wiltshire, on the Salisbury Plain—I appreciate to the full the beauty of the villages, and I am pleased to say that when the Ministry of Defence, which will not sell land, let or sell houses they insert regulations applying to such houses. Of course Salisbury Plain contains not only Stonehenge. There is also Avebury, Woodhenge and many other beautiful places; and the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, might consider including as a National Park, in the areas about which he spoke so eloquently, Dartmoor, which was and still is used by the military. I was also interested in his opening remarks about the use of this House. Certainly, something that we are having now in this House, which is not available in the other place, is free speech, and the noble Lord drew our attention to this in a very wise way.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for introducing this subject for debate. He showed by the details he gave that he has great knowledge and love of the area in which he lives. It is appropriate that we should consider these matters now, because we in the South-West are not going through an easy time, as the noble Lord demonstrated. When the Minister of Labour visited the West, Devon and Cornwall, not long ago he said:Do not be despondent "—and added, according to the Press—the deterioration of industrial activity in Cornwall is viewed with deep concern.He moved on to Plymouth and used similar words.
242 He told us not to be despondent, but I fear that we are rather despondent in this area, for another Minister, the Minister of State for the Civil Service, announced that regrettably, despite the recommendations of the Hardman Report of 1973, which recommended that there were three alternatives for Plymouth in regard to the occupation of premises there by civil servants—it was suggested that there should be 1,000 employees of the Home Office and Department of Employment and 1,600 of the Inland Revenue—they would not now be going to Plymouth. That was unfortunate, and "Plymouth Misses Job Influx" was the headline in the local papers. It is depressing for an industrial town not to have alternative work, especially for its younger people and particularly in jobs like the Civil Service. Only today I was entertaining 27 young people from that area, three of whom are without jobs, and the figures of unemployment there are rising.
I was also interested in what the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, said about the EEC. My understanding is that Devon and Cornwall are to receive EEC cash to the value of £3 million over the next three years and that that money will be allocated through the EEC's Regional Development Fund—but only £3 million over three years. I should like to know whether my figures or those given by the noble Lord are correct. It is the EEC's European Peripheral Maritime Regions' Organisation which is making this grant. Rank International, the radio firm, has factories in Cornwall and Devon and has applied to the EEC for help in order to train redundant workers. I therefore hope that when the Referendum takes place the people of the West Country will realise how essential it is for us to be in the EEC.
Inevitably, the tourist industry has been mentioned in connection with Cornwall and Devon. I should like to point out certain interesting facts that appeared in the Official Report of the other place on 8th April last, in column 392. It contained a list of 50 different towns and areas in which the percentage of self-employed persons aged 15 and over is very high. Of the 50, 11 are in Devon, two are in Dorset and—to show that these axe not the only areas of tourism affected —five are in the Lake District. We see, 243 therefore, that things will not be easy for the self-employed, remembering that many small hotels have been traditionally handed on from father to son and will be greatly affected by the new capital transfer tax. Incidentally, I mentioned in my maiden speech that boats of under 40 ft. in length received no subsidy. It appears that there is now a considerable temptation to withdraw such vessels from the fishing fleet and to convert them for tourism. This will be a great loss to the fishing fleet in these areas.
The question of the transport of French eggs was mentioned recently by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and noble Lords will know that there was a demonstration in the West Country by members of the United Kingdom Egg Producers' Association. I am glad to say that on their own they won a considerable victory, for it appears that French producers are to kill off 2 million laying hens and this will mean egg production there going down by about 5 per cent. They have said that their action will commence in May and June, and I am sure that this will be of great help to the producers in Devon and Cornwall, many of whom are dependent on the egg market. I suggest that tin mining in Cornwall needs looking into by the Government. I believe that there are great prospects for tin mining in this area, though the question of mineral rights is a difficult one, and I am told that this problem cannot be resolved without legislation.
Reference has been made to the ageing population in the West Country and it is interesting to note that in Cornwall, where there has been a 40 per cent. increase in the population, 17,000 of the 400.000 people are over the age of 60. This places quite a burden on the area. The population of Devon, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, referred, has a very high average age. At present, 13.9 per cent. of the populations of all other counties are aged over 65, whereas in Devon it is 18.6; though it is fascinating to learn that in Plymouth, for example, people live to a great age. Perhaps I should regret having left Plymouth, as my life expectancy might have been greater. The area recently celebrated the 103rd birthday of a still very active woman—she was mentioned in my Election address—and we have another 244 aged 102. There are four people over 100, three women and one man, all of whom are enjoying life.
However, an ageing population places a considerable burden on the locality, particularly if the people concerned are not active and in non-metropolitan counties like Devon, which have vast distances to be travelled, and whole areas of Dartmoor and Exmoor, public transport is not adequate and this makes it difficult for local government officers to get around the area. Of course it is very difficult for local government officers to get around these large areas. I make no bones about saying that I opposed the Conservative Government's Local Government Act from beginning to end, and I do not regret that I did so. However, I am sorry to see how it is working out to the disadvantage of a great many areas. I am not blaming any of the people who are now county councillors or civil servants, because they have an intolerable burden with all these problems of distance, of the recent bad weather—including occasionally getting snowed up—of an ageing population and of growing unemployment.
My Lords, our hospital accommodation is of course overstretched and we are very grateful that in Plymouth, at any rate, we are still allowed to have the Royal Naval Hospital which takes civilians and does a great job. However, we have far too many old people in hospitals. There ought to be hostels for them in which they could live a much more active life. Another reason why the hospital accommodation is over-crowded is the number of accidents on the roads, particularly during the tourist season. I think that that is something which must be looked into, because with 8 million holidaymakers coming to the South-West it makes for increasing difficulties for the hospitals, the local doctors and the ambulance services.
The old have to be cared for and recently—regrettably, perhaps, but it is working very well—we have had to start a branch of Age Concern in West Devon. We have very able people running it, and I will say for the county council that it has been generous in its grant. However, the problem is not only with the infirm. At the moment, Plymouth has 3.7 per cent, of its working population unemployed; Torbay has 6 per cent. 245 unemployed and Exeter has 2.4 per cent. unemployed. In the Plymouth area, housing is difficult because there is a shortage of land, and what is happening now is that private enterprise is going outside and building in places like Ivy-bridge and Saltash, which is depopulating the city of Plymouth. Another difficulty is a lack of industrial land. Plymouth city is down to 19.8 acres and we need additional industry to keep unemployment down.
I do not want to say much about farming though, when I was a Member, I attended meetings of the National Farmers' Union and they were very kind when I was defeated in acknowledging my help, although I had been quite honest with them and had said that I wanted to help the consumers and see that they were getting the right deal. It is interesting to know that the farmers and land-owners have now re-established the South-West branch of the Farm Buildings Association. I believe that this shows what a sombre view they take of the future.
My Lords, Western Members of Parliament are very worried, as I am, about the question of sewage and the reduction of only 50 per cent. for houses which are not connected with main drains. Of course, in Wiltshire I now have the same problem about main drains. Another difficulty is that we still do not know in very many areas where main water is to be put in. Many times a plan for an extension of a room or an alteration to a house has to be held up, because one cannot be told when the main water is to come.
I should like to ask some questions of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett; I gave him notice of the fact that I wanted to do so, so I hope I may receive answers. First, in regard to the Insworke Power Station, is this project to be postponed or scrapped? We have had one of the longest inquiries in history in regard to this, and I believe that about £1 million has already been spent before any action has been taken, except on the roads which I personally hope will not be used in the future. It is a terrible building according to the plans, with a chimney which I believe is to be 750 feet high because of the wind tunnel. It will be so high that it will be seen from the centre 246 of Dartmoor. I should like this project looked into again, and I believe that it would be worth while losing the money in order to get rid of this terrible eyesore for the surrounding country.
The noble Lord, Lord Clifford, mentioned the future reservoir. Discussion on this has been going on for at least 15 or 16 years. One of the first jobs I had to do—and we were successful on that occasion—was to try to stop the building of a reservoir at a place called Lee Mill. We had no water authority in those days, thank goodness! I did this and worked very hard on it, because the land concerned was all good agricultural land. Later, I promoted on behalf of Plymouth City Council a Bill—which I got through the House with a majority of 123—to construct a reservoir at Swincombe. This was turned down at Committee stage. All right, my Lords, if one loses, one loses, but surely it is about time we had some idea where the reservoir is to be. Then next project appears to be a discussion as to whether we should have the reservoir at Bickleigh. I believe that Swincombe was turned down only because it was in a National Park. We already have one very beautiful reservoir at Burrator, which is a great asset to many people and a great tourist attraction. The Swincombe reservoir would have been only on the Fox Tor Mires which are at least three-quarters bog.
We now think of Bickleigh. I have had a great interest in Bickleigh because, with the help of the citizens of Plymouth, and through the kindness of the Foot family —if I may put it that way, because they were not all Lords in those days—who allowed us a couple of months in which to buy a certain amount of the woods near Plymbridge, we gave the area to the National Trust on behalf of the citizens of Plymouth. It is thought that this beautiful area, which is a very deep valley with, I understand, a quarter of a million trees, wild deer, lovely walks and very good fishing and which is easily accessible to Plymouthians—a point of great importance with the increase in the price of petrol and because not everybody has cars, particularly in the City of Plymouth —will have a high level dam which will be seen from the centre of the city itself. Other suggestions have been made and I gather that the South-West Water 247 Authority favours either Roadford or Townleigh, but I am very nervous about the Devon County Council Planning Committee which, we are told—and I have seen the documents—favours the area of Bickleigh. I do not know whether the noble Lord will be able to take any action, because I believe that the water authority is fairly autonomous. But perhaps he will say a word in the right direction to ensure that some settlement is made quite soon.
My Lords, another matter which I should like to raise concerns education. Could the noble Lord convey to the Secretary of State for Education the concern of many parents in the City of Plymouth about the loss, for instance, of direct grant schools? As your Lordships will know, the City of Plymouth was bombed —some say worse even than Coventry. It has pulled itself up and has rebuilt itself, but it rebuilt most of its schools on the lines of the Butler Act of 1944. It will be extremely difficult to make a change unless a great deal of money is spent. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will ask the county council to examine the situation. I should like to add that I personally am not against comprehensive schools in the right place. I think, for instance, that if one takes a small town like Tavistock and brings in children from all the villages around, that is a good thing, because one cannot have extensive laboratories, large numbers of teachers and so on in all these small schools. There one would be mixing town and country. But in a city like Plymouth, with big housing estates, one is nervous about getting neighbourhood schools, which is likely unless there is a great deal of "bussing". At present any child can obtain a grant to go to any school according to his ability, and this is a very good scheme. But in any case it would be advantageous if action could be taken to discuss this with the local people, particularly the parents and the teachers, because it would be found that the teachers have in recent times had a slight change of view about many matters in the schools.
My Lords, we are still waiting for a debate on defence, relating to the whole area and not just Plymouth. It is very difficult to know what one is to do about the economy when one does not know what is to happen regarding cuts in 248 defence. We understand, for example, that the rebuilding of part of the dockyard for nuclear submarines will not be much hindered; but many other establishments in the area—not merely in Plymouth—are experiencing doubt about their future, and there is also doubt about the future of the Royal Marines. We should have a debate on this matter. We have now had the White Paper for a considerable time and a debate would be advantageous to the area, particularly in relation to the allocation of jobs to young people.
As the noble Lord mentioned, Plymouth would like to have a UDI—he put that into my mind; I did not suggest it myself. But we have been independent since 1429; and, as he mentioned, we were a Cromwellian city in those days against the very Royalist squires of Devon. This has given rise to different feelings and different ways of managing things. Plymouth has an excellent polytechnic, a school of navigation, and a college of further education which is used by many people in the county as well as by people from outside the county. I am not suggesting that it is possible at present to make the changes that we should like to see, but it would be a good idea if more authority could be given to the area.
Travelling between Plymouth and Exeter means a great waste of time for those without cars, and the trains, particularly in the past week or two, are not adequate. In previous debates I said that the distance between Plymouth and Exeter was 44 miles and Ministers said that I was measuring the distance from Devonport. I believe that the distance is in fact 43 miles. This travelling means that far too much is left to the jurisdiction of the civil servants. We have some very good civil servants. I am not saying anything against them. But that situation should not exist in an area which elects county councillors to carry out the duties. Plymouth is left with far too few decisions to make. In future, if we cannot have a change in the Local Government Act, I hope that there will be less centralisation and more decentralisation.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, will be kind enough to answer the points I have put forward. Although I have at the moment left Devon I still take a great interest in it and return there 249 periodically; and I hope in the future to have other opportunities of speaking about the difficulties there, or about matters which have gone right.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord HARDING of PETHERTON
My Lords, as a fellow West Countryman and as another who sits on these Benches, I wish to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, on his maiden speech. I propose to address myself primarily to the problems of the small farmer, the small businessman, the small retailer, and those people in my part of the world who live in the more remote rural areas. But before doing so, I wish to refer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, about the Isle of Purbeck. I entirely agree with him about the beauties, and the ecological and historical importance of that area. As a professional soldier I had the unhappy and uncomfortable experience of entering upon two World Wars in units and formations that had been ill-equipped and undertrained. Therefore if the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that the Isle of Purbeck should be turned into a National Park and made no longer available for the Armed Forces was accepted, it could be done only under one condition; namely, if the Government of the day were prepared to make available the finance and the resources necessary to provide a comparable training area elsewhere, particularly for our armoured formations and units. I hope, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in his interest in South Dorset, will not forget the equally historically valuable ancient walls and Cobb of Lyme Regis which, I think, are still in some danger of being ruined or changed. I am glad to hear that he has a continuing interest in the coastline of South Dorset.
My Lords, by birth, upbringing and education I am a Somerset man; I now live in Dorset, and so I can fairly claim to be a man of Wessex. I remind your Lordships that Wessex was once an independent kingdom. We are very proud of our history, going back to the time of the mythical King Arthur and his knights, and to the authoritative time of King Alfred and his burnt cakes. We are very proud of our traditions and of our customs and folklore. Though we do not bang on about it quite so much as our 250 neighbours across the Bristol Channel, and other people who live North of the Border, it is still a very important matter to all of us who live in Wessex.
When the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, wrote to me to tell me that he was putting down this Question for discussion today and to ask whether I would make a contribution on behalf of Somerset, my first reaction was to say that I would have none of it, because I certainly do not want to have any hand in increasing the burden of bureaucracy on the folk of Wessex. But in my approach to this matter I asked myself three questions: first, what are the problems of Wessex; secondly, what practical experience do I personally have of them and of their significance; and, thirdly, what action can, and should, be taken at Government level—at the centre of Government, here in Westminster and Whitehall—to help resolve them? The part of Wessex I know best is South Somerset and West Dorset. As has already been stated by other noble Lords who have wider knowledge and greater experience than I have of agriculture, in those parts of our region agriculture is the primary industry. We have in Yeovil a thriving and very important aerospace industry in Westlands who are the sole British builders and exporters of helicopters. But even Yeovil is primarily a market town and largely dependent on providing the needs of the surrounding farming community.
My son is now a working farmer in Dorset. In Somerset, I have three nephews who are also working farmers. All of them, when asked what was the most important thing from their point of view that the Government could do to help, replied in the same way. They said that there is an urgent and continuing need for greater continuity and consistency in Government agricultural policy—any Government, every Government. It must be fairly obvious to any-one who knows anything about agriculture at all that you cannot switch from beef to milk and back again just by the wave of a hand. But this is what my farming relatives and friends think that the pundits in Whitehall expect them to be able to do. They know that you cannot do it and they know that, if attempted, it can only cause serious loss of proficiency and of production. So 251 the first question that I should like to put to the noble Lord who is to speak from the Government Benches—and I have given him notice of it—is this. Do the Government accept the need for greater continuity and consistency in Government agricultural policy; and, if so, what are the prospects of dealing effectively with this admittedly difficult problem? It is indeed a difficult problem.
My Lords, my next point is also directly related to the agricultural industry. In present world conditions, I do not think that anyone would deny, or question, the need for an increase in home food production. It has already been referred to by other noble Lords, but I should like to emphasise it as being more important than ever under present-day conditions. If it is to be brought about, it calls for greater efficiency and expansion in the agricultural industry and that in turn calls for investment—investment in machinery, in buildings, in training and in research. The farmers whom I know simply have not got the capital for investment and expansion. As has been said by other noble Lords this afternoon, they are already hard put to it to keep their heads above water and they cannot afford to borrow at the present high interest rates and with the soaring costs that they face in terms of rates and so on. So the second question that I should like to put to the noble Lord who is to reply is: what measures have the Government in mind to stimulate and facilitate the expansion of the agricultural industry? For example, have the Government any plans for providing low-interest-rate finance for approved investment schemes?
My Lords, Wessex has a high proportion of self-employed: farmers, I have already mentioned; small ancillary businesses, small retailers, professional men, accountants, lawyers and so on who serve primarily the agricultural industry in my part. On all of these the burdens of bureaucracy weigh heavily and are increasing. I have some personal experience of the problems of the small retailer in this respect. Like almost every other village in South-West Dorset and in South Somerset, we have a small village store combined with a post office which sells groceries and is a tobacconists and news-agents. I know about its problems because 252 I do the bulk shopping myself and keep the accounts. The demands of paperwork are very heavy and are steadily increasing: the PAYE, National Insurance, VAT and so on. The regulations are often difficult to understand and apply. As an Army staff officer I was told to write orders and instructions in such a way that they could be understood and applied at all levels of command down to the lance-corporal and private soldier. I submit that the Civil Service should be taught and required to do the same. I have found the Customs and Excise more humane and easy to deal with and to understand than the Revenue. But even they have recently decided, or have been obliged, to change their scheme which was devised for the small retailer. So we must start all over again, and I have a pile of various forms and instructions that have to be read. It is a major problem. I would ask the Government whether they cannot find some way of simplifying the procedures and of making the regulations more understandable and easier to apply.
My Lords, there are a number of other problems that affect us closely in the South-West, most of which have been mentioned already this afternoon. There is the question of housing. We have an acute shortage of housing. There is the controversial question of tied cottages which has already been referred to. I look upon it as an essential feature of the agriculture industry and of agriculture efficiency in present conditions. My son and I between us employ three men. One is young and unmarried and lives with his parents in the neighbouring village. When, as he inevitably will, he wishes to get married, if we cannot find a house for him he will be off somewhere else where somebody can. The other two men are older and are married with sons. If we had not been able to offer them houses where they are tied for our employment they certainly would not have come to us. The only answer to the removal of the tied cottage is to provide a sufficiency of housing in the rural areas so that there is never any need for any-one to refuse employment because there is no house for him to live in.
There is also the question of transportation. There is a great need in our part of the world for better public transport facilities in the more remote rural areas. It particularly affects the old 253 people, the old age pensioners, who do not have motor cars—although they may get lifts from time to time—and who cannot sometimes get to the post office to get their old age pensions. These are very important considerations for the life and wellbeing of the more remote villages. We need an end to the long drawn out "Stop, Go" situation about main railway lines from London to Salisbury to Exeter which has been in doubt ever since Beeching. On road improvement, I am not sure that the local authorities have got their priorities right. The alignment of the A30 dual cariageway between the point at which the road from my village joins it to Sherborne has been altered twice, at obviously very great expense, since it was built a few years ago. Marginal improvements have been made. First they raised the level and then they took out a small part of a curve. The money could have been better spent on much less expensive improvements to rural country roads which are used by the farming community, by the villagers and by everyone.
Regarding education, I had the good fortune to be educated at an old-established Somerset grammar school, and this is an advantage which, if the Government continue with their present plans, will be denied to future generations of Somerset boys. I urge that in rural areas like ours there is a strong case for maintaining the old grammar school which served us so well over many generations. I was horrified in talking to the Mayor of Exeter on Saturday evening to hear of the changes which have been made in Exeter regarding the ambulance service. I think I have the story correctly: He told me that until recently it had been administered by a good lady, on a voluntary basis and solely at her expense. That administration has now been replaced by four officials, at a salary vastly in excess of the previous cost when it was run on a voluntary basis.
I realise that many of these problems are very largely within the area of responsibility of the local government authorities; but, as in military operations, policies and attitudes stem from the centre, from the commander-in-chief and his staff, and I suggest that the same applies in civil administration. The lead the Government give, the policies 254 they support, and, in many cases, the finance that they only can provide, are very important factors in the plans and policies of local government. Above all, I would beseech the Government to preserve the people of Wessex from further encroachments by the dead hand of bureaucracy and doctrinaire philosophies.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord ROBERTHALL
My Lords, may I begin by adding my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. on his charming and well-informed maiden speech. When the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, asked me to participate in this debate and to say something about Cornwall, with great diffidence I accepted. Unlike almost all the other speakers today, I have only a very limited residential qualification. I was not born there; I have not lived there a great part of my life. But I have visited Cornwall a great deal and, for the past seven years, I have lived there whenever my other occupations have allowed me to do so. However, I cannot claim the intimate knowledge of so many speakers. I will not say anything, for example, about agriculture, which has been so well covered by so many speakers, other than that the very great difficulties of agriculture are un-doubtedly present in Cornwall.
I should like to say a few words on a general point on which I have some considerable experience. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, disclaimed any wish to get any money at the moment because times are so hard; but of course what almost every speaker has said is in effect a plea for the Government to find money for one purpose or another. I agree with what I think was behind Lord Clifford of Chudleigh's remark, in that I do not think this is a time for general expansion; but I would nevertheless make a plea for doing something, if the Chancellor can do anything at all, in the field of regional policy. I hope I am speaking to the converted here because the record of the Labour Government on regional policy is a very good one.
I was first converted long ago to believe in the possibilities of it by Mr. Douglas Jay, first as an official and then as a Minister. The great energy and insistence he showed put regional policy 255 on its feet. It was a Labour Government who thought of regional employment premiums, and it was encouraging that Mr. Healey doubled them last July —though one should point out that inflation is moving so rapidly even now that the doubled premium is not worth what the original thirty shillings was when it was first introduced. At this stage in a recession you do not want to give a general stimulus because there are still a good many areas which have good employment but where labour capacity is still short. The impact of general measures, though they have some effect on the Regions, is felt in a very small way; so if there is any money to spare much more good would be done, if one was concerned about the employment situation, by spending it there. I do not expect that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, would tell us what was in the Budget, even if he knew. But I hope that something will be done. After all, even if it is not, you can always do something for regional policy between Budgets.
Coming now more specifically to the problems of Cornwall, it was encouraging that the Secretary for Employment paid a visit to Cornwall last week. I expect its problems will be fresh in his mind. Unemployment there at the moment is very severe indeed. The last figure I saw in the Department of Employment Gazette showed that unemployment in the South-West development area was now 7.6 per cent. That is the third highest figure for the development areas of the country, and is very much above the national average. In Cornwall the trade that has been most severely hit has been the building trade, to which reference has already been made by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley. Last November about 25 per cent. of the work-force there was unemployed, and that figure has been rising since then. The forward estimates, both of the work load on architects and building firms and the employment situation, suggest it will be a great deal worse. The most unfortunate aspect is there is now no place at all in the industry for apprentices, and according to my information something like half the learners in the building trade this time last year have already been made redundant. My own local builder, 256 a most public spirited man who under-stands the importance to the industry of a continuing supply of labour, told me he was constantly being asked by young men to take them on as apprentices, but he said that things were so difficult, so uncertain, that he could hardly see his way to keeping his own staff employed. It is very demoralising to young men who want to work and learn a trade to be told that there is no place for them. I know that there are various schemes for training and subsistence during training with the Department of Employment, but this is a serious problem and if something can be done, and more publicity given to what can be done, I am sure it would be of great help.
By a somewhat ironical twist, one of the few supports at present given to the building industry is coming from the new safety regulations for hotels and boarding houses, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Long, referred. It seems unfortunate that by helping one depressed area you might be depressing an area somewhere else. As several of your Lordships have pointed out, including the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, the Cornish tourist industry makes a substantial contribution to the balance of payments because many people go there who might otherwise go abroad. The industry is having a difficult time, not only for the specific reason I have given but because although people are still going there they are not spending so much and at the same time costs are rising very fast.
One of Cornwall's major problems is that one of its main industries is subject to this large seasonal effect. A number of speakers have mentioned this seasonal problem, together with the load that is placed on the police, water supplies, and so on. I shall not repeat all the arguments, but I feel there is a tendency for Central Government to say, "They get the money from it: why should they not pay for it?" I think that is rather a narrow view, because the problems of a seasonal industry give a particular over-load and they cause special difficulty to local services.
Having mentioned tourism, as did the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, I think it is still true to say that Cornwall would benefit from some industry of a more permanent character. Nearly the whole 257 of it is a full development area and it is, in many respects, a very attractive area. It has a good climate with lovely country, and there is a very intelligent and co-operative workforce available—perhaps one needs to live there to appreciate this. If you need something doing in Cornwall, you get it done. It is not like London, where a man will promise to come but does not show up.
I do not think one can complain about the regional incentives. They are very good indeed; that is, the general regional incentives. The problem lies in persuading industry of the advantages of these. There is a feeling in Cornwall that, because it is out of the way and because it has not the crime problems of the large towns in depressed areas and because it cannot exert as much pressure centrally as they can, it is always in danger of being a forgotten area. To take one example, under the 1972 Act relating to selective assistance for development areas, I understand that £33 million was spent in development areas as a whole, but the entire South-West got only half a million, or about 1½ per cent. There are a number of other problems and I shall not detain your Lordships for very much longer, but I should like to repeat that generally I am strongly in favour of regional policy. I think that a place like Cornwall is very much in need of a real attempt at the centre to see that it is not overlooked in competition with other development areas which may have these large industrial towns and are able to exert stronger pressure.
I should like to add a personal word about the transport problem, which has already been referred to. The transport between London and Cornwall, though still very expensive, has improved a great deal; but the one part of it which, in my view, really needs attention is the stretch of the A30 between Exeter and Okehampton. It must be one of the most expensive roads in the country, being narrow, traversing steep hills and with double white lines. Practically nothing has been done there, and it seems to me it should have the highest priority.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Lord GRIDLEY
My Lords, I am sure we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for giving us the opportunity to debate the problems of 258 the South-West. For me it has been a stimulating experience. I hope the Government will take note of the serious plight of the British farmer, and will try to do something to help. I am not a farmer and therefore shall not attempt to speak about farming. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, referred to this, and so did my noble friend Lord Long. We have also had a wonderful maiden speech on similar lines from the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. I hope that we shall have the pleasure of hearing him on many occasions in the future in your Lordships' House.
As I said, I am not a farmer: indeed, I am not even a landowner. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, who mentioned in his opening speech that his ancestors had been connected with the land for over 400 years, and the noble Viscount, Lord Long, also referred to the same theme. I am surprised that no mention has been made of Sir Francis Drake and Plymouth Hoe during this debate, for we have here a distinguished representative of Plymouth Hoe, in the person of the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, who played a distinguished part in public life as a Member of the other place.
I mention Plymouth Hoe because my grandfather used to tell me a story about Sir Francis and Plymouth Hoe. He said that, had it not been for Sir Francis Drake, we as a family would not be here. When they came over many years ago to attack England, as your Lordships will recall the Spanish Armada was sunk by this British Admiral. Our ancestry dates back to those times. I do not know whether that story is true, but perhaps it will contribute a little light entertainment to this evening's debate.
I speak on these problems as an individual. I went to live in Somerset some 18 or 20 years ago after a lengthy period of service overseas. I decided to settle in that part of the world for the same reasons that obviously motivated many other people who also live there. It is on these people that I wish to concentrate my remarks this evening. There is a class of retired people in these areas of England who have lived there for many years and are quite unable to defend themselves in present conditions. They are old and have retired; they are people who in the 259 past have represented all that was best in our country. They were loyal and lawabiding, and they both accepted and respected authority. They worked hard and saved out of their earnings. They were not the sort of people who sought protection from any union, preferring to establish and maintain themselves by their own thrift. I would hazard a guess that perhaps 75 per cent. to 80 per cent. of the people who live there purchased the house or cottage in which they live with their life's savings. Many are pensioners and, to a large extent, they live on a fixed income. When they originally retired they had every reason to believe that, living quietly, their financial worries were behind them.
What is the present situation compared with what it was twenty years ago? My Lords, I speak of what I know as fact. Rates have increased fourfold. Whereas twenty years ago a bus ran perhaps three times a week to the area in which I live, enabling people to travel to the nearest village or town to make their purchases, now there are no buses. Newspaper deliveries have ceased altogether. So have butchers' vans and grocery vans. Milk is delivered only three times a week. In view of the price of petrol—this point has been mentioned by other noble Lords this evening, but I would emphasise it—people use their cars, if they can afford them, only once a week; sometimes only in an emergency. Adding to their discomfort are the present postal and telephone charges, and I know of the communication difficulties. Communication between parents and families has been curtailed in consequence. This is a particularly cruel situation for retired people.
As other noble Lords may have experienced, local authorities, knowing that we were going to debate this subject in your Lordships' House this evening, have made certain observations they would like considered. In connection with what I have just said, may I quote a short passage from a letter which has reached me from the chief executive officer of the Yeovil District Council. In his letter of 7th April 1975 he says:There are, of course, many difficulties which we are encountering an a daily basis, but I think the most prominent problem which we have at the moment concerns transportation. As you know, following the closure of many 260 railways, 'bus transport was provided and, following the 1968 Act, many of these 'buses have been withdrawn from the services provided following the rail closures. Consequently, in the rural areas there are many villages which have no transport whatsoever and this causes great inconvenience to the inhabitants of those villages when they have to travel to the larger towns for shopping and/or hospital visits, etc.One must not lose sight of the fact that prior to Local Government Reorganisation the old Rural District Councils invested many millions of pounds in providing services to these more rural areas and if there are no transport facilities provided it does mean that there will be little or no development in these particular areas, or, in fact, they will soon depopulate. The escalating cost of fuel oils for motor transport obviously increases this risk, as with the high cost of motoring it does mean that many people will be unable to afford their own transport. I think one has to ask the question, what do these people do who live in rural areas and have no transport of their own and there is no public transport?This officer makes another commentit is his comment and I do not necessarily agree with everything he suggests. He continues:Having considered the problem very deeply, the only conclusion I can come to is that some form of nationalisation of public transport will have to take place. What I am suggesting is that the financially viable urban areas could subsidise the rural areas if all finances obtained from public transport were pooled. This could then possibly provide the rural areas with public transport, even though it was running at a substantial loss.I would ask Her Majesty's Government to take note of this situation, and I should like to know whether they have any plans of their own for alleviating the situation which I have pictured. I have also been informed that at the present time some of these people are selling their properties with the intention of moving to urban areas where they can obtain transport. I assume that no Government desires an urban sprawl with depopulation of the rural areas, but I am informed there are indications that this is happening. I seek a sympathetic attitude from the Government this evening towards an amelioration of all of these problems.
I will now pass briefly to problems of cost faced by the South-West Water Authority, which inevitably place a heavy burden on the ratepayers in Devon, Cornwall and parts of Somerset and Dorset and therefore, in particular, on the people I have mentioned. On 1st April 1974, the South-West Water Authority took 261 over responsibility for water resources and supply, sewerage and sewage disposal, land drainage and control of pollution, fisheries and recreation, from the various water boards, river authorities and local councils. In the process they inherited debts of over £80 million.
In the summer seasons when the population increases by one-third, this Authority has to carry out the statutory functions with which it has been entrusted and to cater for peak demands; capital investment has to be provided for water and sewage treatment plant in order to meet maximum demands for a few weeks. All this expenditure is higher than would be necessary to cope with the resident population in normal circumstances. This places a very heavy burden on the rate-payers, and it is aggravated because the region contains extensive rural areas which are thinly populated, thereby increasing the cost per capita. I would ask the Government whether they can do something about this kind of situation.
A Working Party recently reported to the Authority that unless new reservoirs are established, by the year 2011 severe shortages of water will occur in the South-West area. In the short term, or in the next 10 years, it will be necessary for the Authority to provide new major sources to serve Cornwall, Plymouth and North Devon. It is estimated that by the end of the century it will be necessary to spend £2.7 million to provide water for the resident population, and to meet the demand created by summer visitors a further £3.5 million will be necessary. In addition, there is the cost entailed for sewage disposal from these areas. In this respect, the Authority inherited a capital works programme of £34 million. Part of this programme and other committed schemes will account for a further £4.37 million of the Authority's capital investment scheme for 1975–76. There are 528 capital works schemes waiting to be started, but in view of the need to curb increases in charges to the ratepayers it will be many years before these schemes can be put in hand.
My Lords, might my next point also be considered by the Government? The Authority believes that there is a strong case for special consideration to be given to its particular problems, bearing in mind that its capital expenditure per head of population is one and a half times that 262 of the national average. One way in which the financial constraints may be eased is to allow greater flexibility of its borrowing arrangements. The Water Authority is grateful that recently it has been agreed that it should have greater access to the interbank market for temporary borrowing purposes, and in its opinion this will help. However, of the £80 million inherited debt, £40 million is in local authorities' loan pools. The Water Authority has no control over the interest charged on these loans outstanding, and accordingly interest rates may be increased to reflect new borrowings related to capital expenditure on services entirely unconnected with the functions of the Water Authority. The Authority feels strongly that this situation must be remedied. Also, it asks that the possibility of transferring past debts to general Government should be considered.
In conclusion, it is necessary to have regard to the financial burden placed upon the resident population of the South-West by virtue of the extraordinary level of capital investment required to provide adequate water supplies and sewerage and sewage treatment plant to cater for the peak summer demand. The level of capital investment allocation available to the Water Authority to permit schemes to go forward in a reasonable period of time requires special assistance to relieve the financial impact of the simultaneous construction of two or three reservoirs. It would also like the removal of the present restrictions on borrowing arrangements which have been placed upon Water Authorities, and consideration to be given to the writing-off of the loan debt inherited by the Authority. In view of the difficulties which face the South-West Water Authority, I submit some of those proposals to the Government for their consideration.
§ 7.21 p.m.
The Earl of LYTTON
My Lords, once again I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for introducing this Unstarred Question. He seems to add an Australian impetus to the descent which I know we share in common from Alfred the Great, and I respond readily! Also, I have greatly appreciated the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh. I believe that his father joined these Benches for 263 the same reason as I joined them; namely, that there was an unreasonable invasion of the Middle East in 1956 on the part of the Party to which he then belonged. He was so well satisfied with the Cross-Benches that, like me, he remained upon them. I think the noble Earl showed skill in saying that when this bipartisan approach to farming takes place, if it does, why not make it tripartite and include him?
On the last occasion when we discussed the problems of the West Country, I drew attention to the road plans of the Minister—I forget which Party he belonged to—in order to commend them. I think that it is still a commendable system of roads, both motorway and dual carriageway, which stretches right the way down. The programme is being fulfilled, not according to the programme —what engineering programme ever is? —but at a reasonable speed. The only point which I made at that time was that the production of so many arteries focussing on the West Country would cause a thrombosis in the lanes—the terminal points at which they turn off—because even when they are called "A" roads many of them are not dual carriageway or even single carriageway; they are half a carriageway. Some vehicles occupy the whole of the half, and a few of them occupy more than the whole of the half, and half a day is spent in twisting them around to go somewhere else. These are difficulties and it will take time to overcome them. However, apart from some straightening, we do not want our little winding lanes to be converted into dual carriageways and motorways.
I think that the decision to leave the A.39 out of the programme was entirely right and is still right. What we should like is somewhere to stop. Our shop-keepers are longing for more space for people to stop; there are nothing like sufficient facilities for people to stop. The authorities seem to be more interested in honeypot centres where you can view the deer, or smell the heather, or just take in the ozone and look up the Channel. But what the shopkeepers want is some-where near the shops where people can stop to shop. They are facing more serious trouble than at any time during my life.
264 I confirm what others have said; namely, that the major revenue-bearing enterprises of the region are the production of food and summer visitors. We call them summer visitors. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, implied that some of the older people might not be so happy about tourists. My tradition, and all that I can discover, leads me to believe that we were receiving summer visitors from Birmingham long before National Parks were thought of and that they are a welcome and a necessary addition to the summer. Everybody wants summer visitors; we always have wanted them. The people who live in this part of the country describe themselves as neighbourly people; they like the people of the towns; they welcome them. Therefore, there is no need for any National Park officer, were he so ill-advised, to try to mediate between the conflicting interests of the town and the country, unless the town comes to the country in such myriads that it swamps the country. Summer visitors are welcome and more than welcome.
The difficulty about staggering holidays is the difficulty about staggering the summer and staggering the temperature of the sea. However you like to stagger it, the temperature of the sea remains at its maximum in August. In June it is precious cold, no matter how the sun shines. That is one of the things you cannot get over. Therefore, I feel that we have to deal with this overfilled season. The summer visitor season lasts for only about 12 weeks, but it is all the jam on the bread that everybody has in this part of the world. They want it and welcome it. Let there be somewhere for them to stop. This is the age of the motorway. When you reach the end of the motorway you cannot stop, so all you can do is to turn around, get on the other carriageway and go back to the place where you started from. That is the trouble. There is nowhere to stop.
I had not intended to dwell on motor cars, because I did so last time. I want now to dwell a little on the character of the people. They are working folk and they like their work. When I left the Army and had some foresters I started a five-day week system which gradually spread to the local council. I thought it was a good thing that people should 265 have one day of rest to worship God if they wished, and another day to work, if they wanted to do so, in their own gardens. All my people went to work for somebody else on the sixth day. I was the most popular man around by providing jobbing gardeners on Saturdays for all sorts of people who did not know where they were to get a man. They like to work. The fact that they should go to work for somebody else is immaterial —why not? I have it now the other way round. People come and work for me at weekends, because they like the work that I give them. I pay them in cash. I am obliged to do so under the Truck Act 1831. There are heavy penalties if I do not pay them in cash, and they like it.
In the West Country they work longer hours than most people. They work 60 hours, man and wife, in winter. They work 80 hours, man and wife, in the summer. What has gone wrong is that the profit has gone from everything and they are facing calamity. They are facing calamity because, as I and others have said in this debate, and as I said in the debate on the self-employed, they are harassed by bureaucratic forms and returns of the tax collector. They spend hours burning the midnight oil collecting free, gratis and for nothing, taxes for the Treasury. If you employ one man on agriculture, you have to collect £600 from him in taxes and he knows nothing about it. That is the irresponsible society which we have created. They do not know when they are paying their taxes. They do not know the amount they are paid. What tax is a miner paying if he is earning £100 a week? I suppose he is paying £1,700. But does he know it? No, it is all taken away and he does not know what he is paying by way of tax. These people and their wives are burning the midnight oil. Holidays are out. Some have a holiday once in a lifetime; some never. A few say that all they live for is one fortnight a year in Portugal, Spain or Italy. That is all they live for and they are willing to work; but the kind of rewards they are getting are below the level of the minimum agricultural wage at the present time. That is what is wrong today, both for the shopkeepers and for the farmers.
266 In addition to their taste for work, the people are unequally minded. I remember sitting on an Agricultural Lands Tribunal. I represented the landlords on behalf of the CLA and my colleague, a farmer, represented the tenants on behalf of the National Farmers' Union. During an interval when we were trying a case I said: "What is the best thing that could happen to you as a hill farmer this year?". He said: "Oh, you are asking me a very easy question. The best thing that could happen to me is that the vale farmers this autumn should be rich and buy my stores and pay me a good price for them". So not only do we welcome the rich "Brummagers" coming down to spend their money in the villages and on the farms in the summer time, but the poor farmer of the hills welcomes the wealth of the rich farmer in the vales. If Birmingham is poor or the vale is poor, the hills are poor and everybody is poor.
The hill farmer is also a very frugal man. I will give your Lordships an example. We put in electricity under the hill farming Scheme and we were told that it had to be comprehensive and include everybody, whether or not people wanted it. So we made it comprehensive in order to gratify the Treasury. Some time afterwards we went round to, shall I say, one Jan Ridd and all that he had was one bulb. The electricity supply had been brought in on pylons at great expense but he only had one bulb. An agent—not my agent—went in and asked him about this. The agent said that apparently he did not appreciate the service of electricity which had been provided at such cost. The man denied it hotly. He said that the missus thought it a "proper job". He said: "Her do find it awful useful for finding the matches to light the pressure lamp". That is the kind of frugality which exists, and now this man, or somebody exactly like him, is called wealthy because for some unexplained reason his 300 miserable acres is valued at, say, £100,000 on the market. Therefore he is ripe for the wealth tax while he lives and his son can pay the gift tax when he dies. That is what is wrong, because he is not a great consumer. Surely it is the great consumer, the man who consumes £5,000 a year that this was designed to catch; whereas this man has three people consuming less than £5,000 a year. But 267 because he has a patch of ground which by some quirk of the market is worth £100,000 he is labelled a wealthy man and that is the shame and the scandal which should not be allowed.
Then there are savers. Savers come to spend their old age with us. We belong to a race of people who save all the time and who try to furnish their sons with a little impulse to go on. We have supplied a number of people to New Zealand and Australia. During a debate on the self-employed the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, called attention to one awful scandal: savings invested and producing income are stained and smeared with the term "unearned income". This surely should be earned income, at least at the moment when they become pensioners, and not taxed more highly than the rest and tinged with a smear. I am not accusing either the Labour Government or the Tory Government. Both are responsible and so are the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats all over Europe. The whole of our modern society in Europe is stained with the idea that there is something mean and despicable about savings.
To carry on with the subject of savings, what advice would the Government give —what advice can I give?—when a little man puts £100 in a Post Office Savings Account at 9 per cent. interest and at the end of the year he has £109? I have to tell him that in a year when inflation has been running at 20 per cent. he has lost £11. If it is right to make good the earnings of a man who is highly paid and in the full flush of his earning capacity so that he loses nothing by inflation —and that, surely, is the basis of the Social Contract—what do I say to this little man when for every £100 he invests in the Post Office he loses £11 a year? Is not that a crying shame?
I will take another case, that of capital gains. Supposing a man has another way of trying to escape from this awful dilemma. In 1965 he buys a house for £5,000. In the interval he allows his wife's parents to live in it. They pay him a rent but they do not have to find the capital. He has saved and they benefit from only paying a rent. In 1975, inflation having trebled prices between 1965 and 1975, we will say for the sake of argument, he gets on the market 268 £15,000 for his house. That £15,000 buys exactly and no more than what £5,000 bought in 1965. But what does the Treasury say about it? The Treasury says that the difference between £5,000 and £15,000 is £10,000 and that he will pay a capital gains tax of one-third of that; that is, £3,333. Is that not what is happening? So that the Treasury—Shylock—surely is getting a tax reward from nothing. A man who has merely stood still—he may even lose—still has to pay a so-called capital gains tax. Is not that a damned swindle?
My Lords, I intended to speak for much longer but I see that I have spoken for 17 minutes and I have had my share of your Lordships' time. I am most grateful.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord CARADON
My Lords, at this hour I do not wish to delay the House unduly, but I am anxious to pay my respects to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, for his initiative today, and for the perspective he gave us. He spoke in a searching and inspiring way about the problems of the area that he loves so much. This subject has given rise to a remarkable series of speeches this afternoon. It would be invidious to select only one or two, but we had a very remarkable maiden speech, for which we were all most grateful. I was glad to be able to listen to such a speech from the noble Lord who was my predecessor as Governor of Cyprus. For him I have always had the greatest admiration. However, I did not know that among his many other qualities he was such a fine public speaker. I had not heard him speak before tonight, and I am glad that he did so. May I refer, also, to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. She said that we must not be downhearted. There are one or two things to be sad about, particularly the fact that she is no longer working with us across the river in Devonport. I do not know of any other person who has done more for Devonport, Plymouth, and for the West Country, than she has done. Owing to my travels, this is the first time I have been able to see her with us in this House, and I am very happy that she is here.
My Lords, this evening I wish to say a word or two about Cornwall. I might 269 quickly admit that I am sometimes regarded in Cornwall as a foreigner. My father was a Member of Parliament for a Cornish constituency. When accused of being a foreigner in Cornwall, he used to make the reply, which I now make, that if my mother had taken a trip on the Saltash ferry on the right day, I would have been a Cornishman! However, on behalf of Cornwall, I would say that those of us acquainted with the West Country know that the further West one goes, the better are the people. They are more radical, they are more militant, they are more nonconformist. I am happy that I migrated from Devon to Cornwall.
I wanted to speak this evening because I think someone from these Benches, apart from the noble Lord who is presently to reply, should speak for the West Country. I do not for a moment suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, is not my leader in many matters. I follow him in practically every political issue, but as a spokesman for the West Country, I think he needs some support. However, I was glad to hear what he had to say this evening. I feel that someone other than the representative of the Government should speak from these Benches in this debate.
We have been reminded that it was a Labour Government which introduced the system of development areas. We have also been reminded that it was a Labour Government which introduced the system of employment subsidies. These have been doubled in respect of Cornwall, so some action has been taken to deal with the special problems of Cornwall, which are more acute than in any other part even of the West Country. I am happy to think that we are searching for encouragement. Reference has been made to a recent visit to the West Country by a champion of nonconformity, a champion of radicalism, and certainly a champion of militancy. I refer, of course, to the visit of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment. His recent expedition to the West Country tended to revive the spirits of those who have been previously depressed.
My Lords, there is one point arising from our debate to which I would refer. We have in Cornwall—but also in other parts of the West Country—a tremendous 270 responsibility to maintain the beauties of the countryside, the coast, the moors, and the villages. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, spoke to us about the necessity for preserving the Isle of Purbeck, where I went to school. He spoke of the need to make sure that the reservoirs, the air-fields and the power plants are not placed in such a way that they are in complete disregard to the natural beauty of the countryside which is our heritage. At the same time, we have the dilemma that we must preserve the moors and the villages. Where I come from, my village is now threatened by the spreading sprawl of suburban uniformity. We are fighting against it, and I think we shall win. We must work to preserve what we have been given. I am sorry that no reference was made to Bodmin Moor, more beautiful than Dartmoor and Exmoor, if I may say so respectfully. At the same time, we must take special measures in this beautiful countryside to increase employment, and to provide the means whereby the people who reside in these areas can go forward in increased prosperity. This is the dilemma.
Perhaps a subsidiary dilemma is a question referred to often enough; that is, the roads and railways. There has not been a great deal of mention of the railways in this debate, but roads have been mentioned. The huge roads advocated consistently today are viewed by some with a certain amount of misgiving. To the natives of these counties, the invasion of the motorcar has to be accepted, but it is not always welcome. Whatever is done to the roads, I hope that our railway will be allowed to remain. I hope we can keep and maintain, and even extend, the railway, because it is part of the countryside, which in its turn is our heritage. So we have two purposes, which are not contradictory. We have to increase and maintain the prosperity of the whole of the West Country, while at the same time making sure that, in doing so, we are handing on a heritage to those who come after us which is not despoiled.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, may I add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, for his most interesting maiden speech. To my mind it brought a breath of sweet fresh air from the West Country into this rather gloomy Chamber. I hope soon to 271 be back there. I shall not detain your Lordships for very long, but I should like to say a word or two about the problems of Dorset in connection with our debate this afternoon.
My Lords, I have lived all my life in Dorset. In that time, the county has remained largely unchanged, apart from the coastal area which has benefited from the development of tourism and some light industry. Broadly speaking, Dorset is the same as any of the other counties discussed this afternoon. In this connection, I support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton, said about the problems of the farmers and the small shopkeepers. Perhaps more than the other counties in this area of the South-West, Dorset is dependent on tourism and agriculture for its support. It has little industry to fall back on, and if anything goes wrong, these industries face an acute financial problem.
I do not want to trouble your Lord-ships with the problems of the tourist industry in towns, which have already been mentioned, and which are similar to those in other parts of the country. However, I should like to say something about the Dorset coastline, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. The Dorset coastline is spattered with a growth of caravans over practically the whole of its length, from one county borough to the other, and they fulfil a real need. They provide town dwellers with an outlet to a beautiful countryside, and they bring prosperity to that area. But there are a great many of them now, and we must be reaching somewhere near the limit which the countryside there can support if it is to retain anything of its previous character. This is one one point on which I would differ from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, because he has mentioned the desirability of turning it into a National Park rather than retaining the Army there.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, if the noble Marquess would allow me, I did not suggest rather than retaining it for the Army; I gave instances where there is both National Park and Army occupation working quite co-operatively.
§ The Marquess of SALISBURY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, 272 but I think one of the problems is that in this area the Army uses some of the land for firing purposes, and I do not see how it is possible to mix that with use as a National Park. The Army has, perhaps fortuitously, kept this area free from being spoiled as other parts of the coast have been. In this age, when we are so conservation conscious, is it not reasonable to keep this small area of the Tyneham Valley in the state that it was made by nature? Also the Army has played a very big part in maintaining the prosperity of this very isolated and small community. It has spent money and provided employment. It has brought life to the area as a whole. So I think that there is quite a lot to be said on the side of the Army, and I must say I am one of those who hope it will stay there.
The only source of prosperity for the rest of Dorset away from the coast is in agriculture and its ancillary industries. There are a few small towns where limited opportunities are provided for employment. This employment is often preferred by the inhabitants of the villages to working on the land. One of the problems we face there is that these small, and in some cases very isolated, communities are becoming dormitories; the younger people who live there return there merely to sleep. As your Lordships realise, this is not a sound basis for any form of community life, and it causes serious problems. Indeed, when they get an opportunity many of the younger people move out, and their place is taken by retired people from other areas.
This drift from the land causes quite considerable problems. It starts at a very early age. In the little town where I live, if I may quote it as an example, we had a secondary modern school. For the pupils who left the headmaster used to try to find jobs away from the village, in other occupations than agriculture; he thought they were better jobs, and more-over they were better paid, and it was his job to do the best he could for his pupils. So he did this, in spite of the fact that the school was supposed to have an agricultural bias—whatever that may be; neither the headmaster or I ever quite discovered.
This drift in parts of Dorset is now reaching very dangerous proportions. Soon the problem will arise that many 273 farms—this has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton—will not be able to carry on on the same basis as at present. Presumably there will need to be some reduction, particularly in livestock. It seems to me that the only way one is to prevent this trend continuing is to ensure that life in these areas is made more attractive. It may be necessary to review the scale of pay of agricultural workers so that their skills—and some of them are very skilled, as your Lordships know—are rewarded commensurately with those in other industries. If this is not done I fear that the time will come when it will be necessary to bribe some of these people to come back, in which case the cost of food will be bound to go up a great deal. I suspect that one of the reasons why no steps have been taken is because successive Governments have tried to keep down the price of food for the urban areas at the expense of the agricultural workers. Not only do I think this is unreasonable and wrong, but in the long run I think they will find that if nothing is done they will suffer. This I have already pointed out.
There are other reasons why village life is suffering, notably the decline of village shops. This has already been touched upon several times this evening by other noble Lords. I would only add that it is even beginning to affect local centres of population. If I may quote as one example the town of Blandford, apparently a number of shops are closing and this is causing great concern to the local council. If it happens in those centres of population which service quite considerable rural areas, enormous problems will arise. The reasons have already been given why the village shops are closing. I can instance again my little town: the numbers have gone down in the last three or four years from nine to six, and I understand that another two are likely to close soon, for the reasons given by other noble Lords. One that remains open used to employ three assistants. It is now run by the owner, who has to work over twelve hours a day to keep it going. One wonders how long that can continue. All these things affect rural life in the villages, and one hopes that the Government may be able to produce some way of mitigating its impact.
274 A certain amount has already been said about rural transport. Of course this is a difficult problem. Many villages were served by quite good bus services, but as many of the people who live there began to own their own cars the buses were less well patronised, and naturally the services fell off. In Dorset, to justify even a very poor service it is necessary for the buses to make circuitous trips to a number of villages to collect the few people who travel on them. This makes shopping in the nearby town an extremely arduous business. So long as people can get to the town and do their shopping all is well, but the cost of doing so is rising. I think the noble Lord, Lord Harding, has already pointed to this. Fewer and fewer people are able to go to the town as often as they need to, even when they pool and share transport. So having lost their local shops, and having an impaired bus service, they are likely to be much more cut off than they have been for a number of decades.
Finally, may I say one brief word about the roads in Dorset. Some of them used to be thought quite good, but in most cases they are not capable of absorbing the vast volume of traffic they carry, especially in the summer. In the result the through travellers who find them congested are getting into the habit of using the by-roads, which are quite adequate for the purposes for which they are normally required but are not capable of sustaining this additional volume of cars.
I very much hope that at least in the Northern half of Dorset the new trunk roads for Wiltshire and North-West Dorset will syphon off much of this traffic so as to leave a little more peace and quiet on the minor roads. But of course it will not cope with what happens in the South of the county, where there is one West and East route which passes North of the tourist towns on the coast and which, in many areas, has had some improvement, although not very much, and in others none at all. There is a comparatively short area between the Hampshire county boundary and Wimborne, for example, which is a semiurbanised suburb in the form of a pool, which has a large number of intersections and carries a vast amount of traffic in the summer, and I understand that it is proposed to keep this permanently as the main East-West artery behind the 275 coast. Surely this is a mistaken concept. If that highly populated area is to have any peace, surely what is required is to syphon this traffic through on the trunk road, so causing the minimum of disturbance on either side. If some of these matters can be attended to, I think that some of the major problems confronting Dorset will very largely be met. I hope it may be possible for them to receive some treatment.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Lord MELCHETT
My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, on his notable maiden speech. I join with other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate in the wish that we will hear him speak often in your Lord-ships' House. The noble Earl asked me what had happened about the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, that the Government should consult all political Parties about future agricultural policy. I am glad to say that I can tell the House that the idea put forward by the noble Earl was taken up by my noble friend Lord Beswick and discussions were held. Formal arrangements were not considered possible, but talks with representatives of the various interests concerned with agriculture about the industry's long-term prospects and objectives have been carried forward. The Government hope very soon now to announce their conclusions. These conclusions should provide the basis for informed and constructive discussion both in Parliament and elsewhere. I certainly hope that these discussions will enable a measure of common agreement between the different Parties to be achieved. I hope that this will reassure the noble Lord, Lord Harding of Petherton, about the Government's long-term intentions. We attach great importance to continuing to expand efficient and economic domestic food production.
This has been a very interesting and an extremely wide-ranging debate. As many of those noble Lords who have spoken will know, I made some attempt before this debate to discover what topics were likely to be raised, so I cannot claim that I was not forewarned. However, my primary task this evening is to answer the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, by trying to give your Lordships some indication of what 276 the Government are doing to tackle the problems of this Region. I do not intend to keep your Lordships here all night, and I am afraid that this means that I shall not be able to answer all the points of detail that have been raised by various noble Lords. I have felt at some points during this afternoon that all the problems of the world, let alone the United Kingdom, are heaped three-fold on these four unfortunate counties. I also confess that I feel rather an interloper in the debate, coming, as I do, from the other extreme, the far East of England. Maybe this is what led the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, to say that he would not get a satisfactory reply from me tonight; or perhaps it was the fact that it would take me a good 40 minutes to answer the points raised by the noble Lord alone, and I intend to try to be briefer than that.
I can assure all noble Lords who have spoken that their comments have been listened to with great care, and I will personally undertake to draw any specific comments to the notice of the relevant Ministers. I shall also do my best to answer in writing as soon as possible any questions of which I have had advance notice, and which I will not have time to cover this evening. May I take this opportunity of thanking all those noble Lords who gave me some indication of the points they would be raising.
There is one further preliminary point that I should like to make; some of the topics that have been raised tonight have been extensively debated very recently in your Lordships' House, and I am thinking of the capital transfer tax and the problems of the self-employed as two examples. I am sure that your Lord-ships would not want to hear again from me what has already been said by Government spokesmen on these matters, so I shall concentrate on topics which we have not discussed recently and which are also of particular importance to the far South-West.
At the outset I think that I should correct what I think may well be an inaccurate view of the far South-West. The four counties with which we are concerned are regarded by many as being mainly dependent on agriculture and tourism. However, in terms of numbers of paid employees, manufacturing is much the most important employer, 277 accounting for 25 per cent. of the total, whereas tourism accounts for around 7 per cent. and agriculture for less than 5 per cent. The dependency of the region on agriculture and tourism is therefore only in comparison with the national picture. In no area in the far South-West can it be said to be dominant in the regional economy. There is, however, a need to diversify and expand the area's existing manufacturing base, and this is a point made by several noble Lords this evening. Development area status in most of Cornwall and North Devon, and intermediate area status in Plymouth and West Devon, facilitate action to enable this diversification and expansion to take place.
Substantial financial incentives are available in the assisted areas, and in recent months the Government have taken a number of measures to stimulate regional developments. These include doubling the rates of regional employment premium—which has been mentioned by several noble Lords—and tightening the industrial development certificate control in the non-assisted areas. The powers we are seeking under the Industry Bill will further strengthen our ability to tackle the problems of the assisted areas. These powers include provision for the National Enterprise Board which will be able to act either alone or in partnership with private sector companies to provide jobs in areas where they are needed. The planning agreement system will give the Government a greater opportunity to convince companies of the merits of investing in the assisted areas.
The Government have, of course, already done a great deal; for example, the Department of Industry have completed sixteen advance factories in the South-West and a further nine have been authorised. There is no reason why a careful diversification and orderly expansion of the industrial base, in step with infrastructure improvements, should be incompatible with agriculture, tourism, and amenity.
I should like to turn next to agriculture and fishing, both mentioned by most noble Lords in the debate. As all noble Lords will know, there have recently been problems in the fishing industry, and at the moment the market is particularly depressed for a number of 278 reasons. We are currently discussing with other Members of the EEC common solutions to this problem. Meanwhile, at home we have announced some temporary aid for the United Kingdom fishing industry in the form of a flat rate daily payment varying according to the size of vessel. The purpose of this aid is to give the fleet a breathing space in which a better relationship between costs and prices may become established.
Although the fishing ports of the South-West are somewhat far away from the Humber and the structure of their industry is of a different kind, they too have been facing some particular problems. These stem from their distance from main markets and from their greater dependence on good weather to bring in a regular supply of good catches. There is nothing they can do about the weather, but the fishermen in Devon and Cornwall have at least organised themselves into a producers' organisation, recognised under Community law, in order to operate a market support scheme which will guarantee them a reasonable price for their product. This has been recognised under the terms of the Community legislation, and the market support scheme for mackerel and pilchards that is now operating will qualify the fishermen for compensation from EEC funds for withdrawn fish. The mere fact that such a market support scheme exists has enabled the producers concerned to firm up prices and to guarantee some outlet for their members' fish. A better organisation of their market, which has already resulted, is really these fishermen's one salvation. I am delighted to know in addition that the institution of the Roscoff ferry has facilitated an increasing trade in fisheries products—particularly mackerel and sardines—to the Continent.
Turning to agriculture, all noble Lords will know the problems that last year's weather left us with. The mild winter, coupled with a good grain harvest last year, appears to have greatly improved the livestock farmers' situation. Unfortunately, the very wet and cold weather we have been having recently has led to renewed problems. Undoubtedly the fodder situation is very tight for some farmers. I must commend the contribution which the NFU Self-Help Scheme for Fodder is making. However, the Government have also taken positive steps with 279 farmers' income and cash flow problems. A large injection of cash was made last year through the temporary increase of £10 per head in the calf subsidy by last December's increase in the hill sheep subsidy, and by advancing the 1975 hill and beef cow subsidy payments, which gave a "double" payment to many claimants this year. The Government's other emergency measures, such as the agistment subsidy, fortunately did not need to be called upon to any great extent because of the mild winter. Fanners have, however, been able to get help from our advisory staff in making the best use of fodder and other resources. We are keeping a close watch on the latest situation. I can assure noble Lords that as a farmer with 100 head of beef, I am well aware of the problems which farmers are suffering at present.
The recently announced Annual Review determination for 1975–76, taken with the EEC farm price package, including the new beef régime, should give producers real assurances of a substantial improvement in their returns. This is particularly important to areas such as the South-West where livestock fanning will benefit throughout its whole range. Bringing back stability into the beef market will benefit fatteners, producers of store and suckled calves, and of course dairy farmers of whom there are many thousands in the South-West. The latter benefited directly through the increased milk price of 5p per gallon, while a further increase in the hill sheep subsidy will provide extra aid for hill farmers.
Of particular application in the far South-West is the provision of socio-economic advice under a new EEC scheme. This scheme arises from one of a package of three EEC Directives, whose basic objectives are the improvement of agricultural structure. Other member States' proposals are in varying stages of preparation, and some have been operating in this field for some time. The scheme has only recently been introduced, but we shall do our best to make its provisions known. The Commission have agreed that in England and Wales the scheme should be operated by the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, who already have responsibility for agricultural advice in this country. Special training of advisers is being arranged as 280 necessary. Schemes introduced by member States will, provided they satisfy the requirements of the EEC Directive, attract EEC contributions in respect of the appointment and training of these advisers.
Those engaged in agriculture, whether as farmers or as workers who are in doubt about their prospects, will now be able to be informed by ADAS of wider possibilities when making decisions about their future. The possibilities may include the farm business, where this is suitable, but will also include the possibility of supplementing the farm income with non-farming activities—for example, tourism—or even leaving agriculture in favour of another activity. Of course, some people living in the South-West may already see tourism as a somewhat mixed blessing. This evening we have heard of some of the advantages and disadvantages which tourism brings to the region.
The Government, however, attach great importance to the contribution which tourism makes to the economy both nationally and regionally. It provides jobs in areas which might otherwise experience much higher unemployment and makes a vital contribution to our balance of payments. In 1973, for instance, our earnings from overseas visitors reached over £680 million. Its importance for the West Country is particularly appreciated. I listened with great interest to the figures given at the beginning of the debate by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. In planning its new guidelines for tourism policy, which were announced at the end of last year, the Government took all these considerations into account. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, mis-represented these guidelines when he opened the debate.
The new guidelines will produce a significant shift in emphasis in Government support for tourism. Briefly, the intention is to increase the amount of help for tourism outside of the main tourist centres and particularly in those parts of the development areas which can readily absorb more tourists. However, the present financial constraints make it impossible to spend more money on tourism in total. It is therefore expected that the existing heavy expenditure on generalised promotion by the British Tourist Autho- 281 rity and the national boards will be reduced and more of the activities sponsored by the tourist boards will be put on a self-financing basis to release the necessary funds for this new approach.
How will this affect the West Country? Clearly, it is too early to see the detailed picture. The areas which will receive special help, for instance, have yet to be identified, but I can assure noble Lords that environmental considerations will be taken into account. The West Country absorbs more home holidaymakers than anywhere else in Britain, so any new areas for tourists which can be opened up may reduce the congestion and damage to the environment which threatens some places in the West Country during the high season about which we have heard a great deal. This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that some of these new areas may be in the West Country itself. Finally, I should like to pay tribute to the work of the West Country Tourist Board for their efforts on behalf of the West Country, particularly with regard to their efforts to lengthen the summer season and encourage people to take short holidays there out of season.
Turning to the question of transport, I would first stress that the Government are very conscious of the special importance which good transport links have for the life of the far South-West. Agriculture, fishing, manufacturing and tourism all depend on getting the product to market: or, in the case of tourism, getting the market to the product. If the area is to compete on even terms with other regions, it must certainly have first-class links to the national transport network. This is reflected in the value of the schemes in the South-West in the programme over the next decade—£340 million worth of trunk roads—the highest figure per head of population of any region in England.
I know that many people think we are not pushing ahead as fast as they would like. On the other hand, there are those who would object to us building any roads at all. With the limited re-sources which we have, we must steer a path between two extremes, and though roads take a long time to plan, a substantial time is necessary if those affected are to have the chance to play their full part in the decisions to be made. Statutory procedures may slow us down, but they 282 are the essential safeguards of people whose homes and farms and whose quality of life are bound up with the line of a road. At the same time, this region more than most knows the environmental damage caused by heavy traffic passing through towns and villages on roads which are quite unsuitable for it. In the South-West, as elsewhere in Britain, the Government are convinced that economics and the environment require a continuing road programme.
We are all deeply conscious of the problems of personal mobility in rural areas, and there have been proposals in recent years to help these problems by changing the law on bus licensing. Your Lordships will know that it was the Government's view that there had not been sufficient consultation with all the parties involved, particularly in view of the recent reorganisation of local government, to pave the way for new legislation in this field. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has been holding consultations, essentially within the context of rural transport, with the major interested parties—both sides of the bus industry; that is, operators and unions, and local authority associations. Recently, he has visited several parts of the country to hear about rural transport problems at first hand. It is clear that there is no universal solution, and that a measure which might help in one area could do irreversible damage to public transport in another. It is too early to predict what the outcome of these consultations will be, but the Government will be making a statement as soon as possible about our conclusions. I hope that what I have said will assure the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, that the Government are acutely aware of these difficulties.
Regarding rail services, although the withdrawal of passenger tram services from one branch line in the South-West was authorised in December, the Government have accepted the need for a network of passenger services of roughly the present size and ruled out any substantial closure programme. I hope that will put the mind of my noble friend Lord Caradon at rest.
My Lords, I would now briefly refer to some points which other noble Lords have raised in the debate. The noble 283 Viscount, Lord Long, asked me about school holidays and the staggering of holidays. Under the School Amending Regulations of 1966, the organisation of 400 sessions, which schools are required to observe, is determined by reference to the calendar year instead of the school year beginning in August, as had previously been the case. The effect of this change is that the local education authorities are able to spread the summer school holidays over July, August and September, a period which for the majority of secondary schools is now free from public examinations. A substantial number of local education authorities have taken advantage of this change in the regulations to bring forward the start of the school summer holidays by one or two weeks in July, but there are many practical difficulties, educational and other, in any major departure from the traditional pattern. The incidence of local industrial holidays, for example, cannot be ignored, nor does any one local education authority find it easy to implement changes independently of the pattern followed by neighbouring authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, both mentioned the question of EEC grants to the South-West. The EEC Social Fund can provide up to 50 per cent. of the cost of schemes to provide financial assistance for the training or transfer of workers whom may be unemployed or threatened by redundancy. Suitable projects in the South-West are certainly eligible for consideration. The EEC Regional Development Fund will be available to contribute to the financing of industrial and service activities and to infrastructures directly linked to the development of such activities in national priority areas. Suitable projects within the assisted areas in the South-West will be eligible for consideration for assistance from the Fund. I am afraid that I am not in a position to confirm the figures given by the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, or the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and I will write to them once I have had a chance to examine the matter. I will also write to the noble Earl, Lord Kimberley, about some of the other matters he raised, but I can tell him that the Government have already announced their intention of raising the 284 grant for derelict land clearance in certain specified areas to 100 per cent. in line with the Scottish and Welsh proposals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, asked me about the Inswork power station. I am afraid that what I have to say may not be helpful, but I understand that following a public inquiry, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy's predecessor authorised consent under Section 2 of the Electric Lighting Act 1909, and deemed planning permission for a new 1320 Mw oil-fired generating station at Inswork Point in August 1973. However, the Central Electricity Generating Board will need to obtain the Secretary of State's approval to the capital investment required before constructing the station. I am told that the CEGB is reviewing in detail its power station ordering plans in the light of the reduced electricity demand fore-casts recently announced by the Electricity Council and other relevant considerations. At present all that can be said is that the prospects for an early order for Inswork Point are receding and it is not possible to say at this stage when the station may be built. I will certainly undertake to draw the noble Baroness's remarks about schools in Plymouth to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and I will, if I may, avoid being drawn into a rehash of the civil war about local authority boundaries.
I listened with great interest to what my noble friend Lord Brockway said about the designation of the Isle of Purbeck as a National Park. However, I have to tell him that this is a matter for the Countryside Commission in the first instance. I have no doubt that that body will take careful note of my noble friend's views and I undertake to draw to its attention what he said. The noble Lord, Lord Harding, referred to the possibility of subsidised credit for agriculture. The Government have given consideration to this but have concluded that on balance our current system of capital grants is preferable. Nevertheless, the system is being kept under review.
The noble Lord, Lord Clifford, and many others spoke about the problems associated with the area's large retired population. It is true, of course, that for a long time people have been choosing to 285 leave other parts of the country to live in the South-West on their retirement. While this is evidence of the attractions of the region, it is causing some concern in the popular retirement areas, the coastal areas particularly. Clearly, the presence of a relatively large number of retired people in any area can create problems for the authorities concerned with meeting their requirements for public services, particularly in the health and welfare fields. Apart from geriatric care, an elderly population enhances the demand for other hospital and social services and adds to the work of doctors, social workers, nurses and others who work in the community services. However, the health authorities and local authorities for the counties with which we are concerned are doing all they can, within the financial resources and manpower available, to meet the needs of the elderly in their areas.
We should not forget that the presence of proportionately large numbers of retired people in a particular area brings many advantages. The savings and incomes which the retired from other parts of the country bring to the area generate a considerable expenditure on local goods and services, and create—directly and indirectly—employment opportunities which are particularly welcome in certain parts of the region, especially among young people who might otherwise have to move away from work. Also, while in this area expenditure on some social services may be relatively larger, there will be less need for other services such as education. And one must never forget the tremen- 286 dous contribution which retired people make to the social life of their communities and to voluntary work of all kinds. The South-West Economic Planning Council has been studying the role which retired people play in the economic life of the region and it will be publishing a report later this year. Its findings can be expected to put the retirement issue into perspective and to lead to a deeper understanding of the benefits and of the problems involved, which will be vital for future planning in the retirement areas of the South-West.
We would do well to remember that, although the far South-West has its own particular problems, it also has a great many advantages over other areas of the country. Anyone who spent Easter, as I did, in East Anglia, with the North-East wind howling in off the North Sea, might well put the weather high among these. There are other, possibly more tangible, advantages. These include, of course, many natural resources, ranging from minerals to the great natural beauty of the area. Many of the enormous problems of the older industrial areas of our country do not impinge to any great extent on the far South-West. And, probably most important, as is evidenced by today's debate, the area has a wealth of talent, local pride and local initiative, all of which are, in my view, at least if not more important than anything that Central Government can do for particular regions of our country.
§ House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes past eight o'clock.