HL Deb 13 July 1981 vol 422 cc996-7

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their instructions to local authorities to assist in the setting up of small businesses in rural areas are being followed.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, answered an earlier Question from my noble friend Lady Sharples on the subject of small businesses in rural areas on 23rd February last. He referred to the policies set out in my department's circular, "Development Control—Policy and Practice", which encourage the formation of small businesses in rural areas. The department is monitoring the effects of the circular mainly through planning appeals which are made to the Secretary of State. We also make use of informal feedback from applicants and local authorities. The Department is aware of no significant deviations from the policies which specifically relate to small firms in rural areas.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his reply. Is he aware that small business people—in other words, one man or one woman—wishing to start up are very unlikely to appeal to the Minister if he, or she, is turned down by the local council?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, the noble Baroness has put her finger on the point here, that it is difficult to monitor these cases. If she has any instances we shall be pleased to look into them.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that before one can establish small or large businesses in rural areas one must have the adequate infrastructure? Is he further aware that the infrastructure costs a great deal of money? In addition to the scheme he is now describing, which is welcome, what plans have the Government to ease the real financial problems of the local authorities in rural areas to enable them to help small industries so that jobs can be found, which I think is of primary importance?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, there has been an increase in the small industries in the last two years, which has indeed helped in the unemployment situation. Local authorities will be free to assist small businesses in any way they wish provided that they remain within the overall cash limits presented by their capital expenditure allocation. However, the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, for example, contributes its views on structure and local plans at the draft stage when it thinks that the interests of small industries in rural areas are affected, and they also have money available.

Lord Sandford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that any stimulus to local authorities in this field is particularly welcome, particularly when it comes from my noble friend Lady Sharples, as the district councils, at any rate, give the highest priority to facilitating the growth of new businesses, both in town and country? Would the noble Earl agree that the terms in which her Question is framed possibly lead to a misstatement of the constitutional position? Local authorities do not take instructions from central Government. They derive their powers and their duties from Parliament, and they are answerable to their own local electorates.

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that advice. I would not in any way do anything but underline it. I am sure that the airing this Question has had in this House will be most helpful.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is as disturbed as I am to hear that an authority was automatically turning down planning applications for rural workshops in an area of outstanding natural beauty? Would my noble friend not agree that if such a policy is to be followed it will fossilize and eventually destroy village communities, whether they are in a green belt or not?

The Earl of Avon

My Lords, there is a general presumption against most kinds of development in green belts, and the circular I have spoken of emphasises that the policies which it contains do not override green belt policies. If the noble Lord has a specific case in mind and would let me know of it, I should be happy to look into it.