HL Deb 21 July 1987 vol 488 cc1264-7

2.40 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what encouragement is being offered to create jobs in the countryside.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in England the Development Commission, with its subsidiary the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas (COSIRA), is the Government's main agency for creating jobs in the countryside. Details of other agencies in England, and in Scotland and Wales, are provided in the Government's booklets on Rural Enterprise and Development, Action for Rural Enterprise and Rural Scotland, published on 10th March. A wide range of assistance is given to assist job creation, including provision of premises, advice and assistance with finance.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that satisfactory reply. Can he give further details of what has been achieved, first, by the Bill, and, secondly, by the Agricultural Training Bill which was passed at the end of the last Parliament?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, government departments and agencies are carrying forward many successful job-creating initiatives. For example, through its 100 per cent. finance workshop programme, the Development Commission has provided about 10,000 job opportunities in England since 1981.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether, in addition to jobs being created in the countryside, some action will be taken to create jobs in the inner cities in order to start erasing the grim effects of the neglect of the past seven or eight years?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, that question is very wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, is the Minister aware that forestry is a major contributor to employment in the countryside? It now employs 40,000 people. Therefore may I have an assurance that there will be continued government support for an expanding forestry policy in both the public and the private sector?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is well aware of this Government's support of forestry. However, I feel that the broader part of his question is very wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to remind the Minister that it is the European Year of the Environment. Is the Minister aware that many jobs can be created in the environmental field in rural areas, as well as in other parts of the country: for example, cleaning the beaches and the rivers; pollution control technology; boosting rural tourism; increasing access to the countryside; and energy conservation'? Many jobs can be created in this way and it would be suitable if they were created during this environmental year. Are the Government pushing this matter?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, this Government are extremely concerned about the countryside and about employment there. However, I feel that some of the points raised by the noble Baroness will be dealt with by local authorities rather than by the Government.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that small or medium-size industrial estates can be of real value in the countryside generally?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend's comments. Decisions on such matters are taken by the planning and local authorities.

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, is the Minister aware, as I am sure he is, that very little of the food produced in our countryside reaches the consumer in the form in which it leaves the farms? Will the Minister agree that there is a fine opportunity to locate the processing of food—food that needs manufacture—in rural areas?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am sure your Lordships are grateful that this matter has been brought to our attention. The Government are well aware of it, and are particularly keen to see farmers add value to products by producing those which are closer to what will appear on the shelves of supermarkets.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in one of his replies the noble Lord was good enough to make a welcome reference to Wales—albeit a passing reference. Is he aware that the development of the countryside in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Development Agency and the Mid-Wales Development Corporation? Is the noble Lord further aware that there is general complaint in Wales, where unemployment is very high, that both those agencies are underfunded? Can the noble Lord say whether the Government have it in mind to increase the funds so that something can be done about the unemployed people?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am not in a position to answer that question because I feel that it does not have regard to that on the Order Paper today.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, when the noble Lord comes to answer Questions of this general kind about the United Kingdom, will he make certain that he briefs himself about Wales?

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the same question applies to the Islands and Highlands Development Board and the Scottish Development Agency? Will the noble Lord say—and it is entirely in line with the Question—whether jobs created under the new scheme equal the loss of jobs in agriculture over the past year?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord in respect of that question.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the Isle of Wight receives much less support from central government than does either Wales or Scotland? Is he further aware that it has a higher unemployment rate?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, 1 am unable to answer questions on specific areas of the United Kingdom.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that two factors make this problem extremely urgent? The first is the imminent changes in farming, which will certainly mean a great deal of land being taken out of production; and the second is the continuing growth of technology in farming, which will mean fewer people being employed. Do not those two factors make the problem probably as important as that of the inner cities, and ought not the Government to attach more priority to it?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, we are aware of the changes that are occurring in agriculture. Accordingly, we have increased expenditure to cope with the problem.

Lord Walston

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that if this problem is to be met, it must be possible for people living in rural areas to move easily from their own village to another village or small town where there is employment and that public transportation in rural areas can play a vital part in this process?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I am not in a position today, unfortunately, to answer questions on transport.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that in the last 10 years real incomes in farming in this country have declined by 40 per cent. whereas, in the European Community, there has been an average decline of about 25 per cent.? Is he aware that at the same time the number of jobs lost in this country in agriculture has been 70,000? If the squeeze on farm incomes that we are now experiencing continues, would he not agree that there will soon be a surplus of farm labour as well as of cereals?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, one of the reasons why we have increased expenditure on the Development Commission is precisely that.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that this Question and the one preceding it, with all respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, are really not suitable as Questions of the starred type and that it would be far more suitable if such very general Questions were the subject of either Unstarred Questions or short debates?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, my experience in this House, as the noble Earl is probably well aware, is extremely limited. I would not feel it right or proper to pass comment.