I beg to move,
That this House, concerned that living conditions in the countryside fall short of those enjoyed in most urban areas and believing that the prosperity of agriculture and the development of rural areas are essential, calls for farming policies calculated to maintain an efficient and expanding agricultural industry and for the formulation of regional plans designed particularly to achieve in rural areas better communications by road, rail and air, increased provision of electricity, water and drainage, adequate programmes for schools, hospitals and homes, and increased and varied employment opportunities to prevent rural depopulation.
The debates which we hold in this House which are of interest to hon. Members from rural areas for the most part touch on specific agricultural measures like the Farm Improvements Scheme, the Livestock Rearing Acts, the Price Review and so forth. The object of this debate is to afford an opportunity to review the countryside as a whole, to analyse the trends and to try to suggest a pattern for the future. I am fully conscious that this is a vast subject, and I shall therefore be in the debt of the House if I do not touch on every matter which is contained in the Motion. It is deliberately drawn as widely as possible to afford any hon. Member from a rural area the opportunity to touch on the topic which is of interest and concern to him.
I am convinced that only by the concerted efforts of hon. Members in rural areas, from all political parties, shall we be able to achieve our objectives in regard to the rural community. In this connection, I had hoped that we might have had at least one back bench Member from the official Opposition, indicating their interest in the countryside.
The problems of the countryside are not as apparent as those of industrial areas. One can see a deserted factory and queues at the employment exchange. Slums in the country may be picturesque, but slums in industrial areas are just slums. I believe that our success in tackling the pattern and problems of our rural areas will be crucial to the pattern of our society. Ever since the Industrial Revolution change has been taking place in the rural areas, but these changes have been accelerated in the last 25 years. We have had increased mechanisation and efficiency in agriculture which has caused a rapid decline in the number of people in permanent agricultural employment at the rate of 1·8 per cent. per annum, so that while in 1936 more than 700,000 people were engaged full-time in agriculture, in 1962 the figure had dropped to 460,000.
Agriculture has become a highly specialised and efficient type of employment, and today the average "nit-wit" in the town would find it impossible to comprehend the technical skills which are the everyday work of the farm labourer. Every year 35,000 acres of agricultural land are devoured for urbanisation, and in many villages—indeed in most—many craftsmen such as the thatcher, hurdler, the carrier and the blacksmith have ceased to exist. The village itself has ceased to be a self-contained economic unit, and more and more people who live in the villages rely on the nearest country town to provide them with their schools, their amenities, their social services, and, more important, alternative employment to agriculture.
That is inevitable, and in so far as it is indicative of efficiency and progress and modernisation, it is to be welcomed. But where those country towns are inadequate to supply this demand there is a migration not from the village to the country town, but from the village to large industrial centres. Once people have left these country districts they do so never to return. Depopulation is the greatest single social evil we experience in the countryside today. It is not only a social evil in the countryside but a national evil for the urban areas.
In the South-East we now have 1,150 people per square mile, and the British Road Federation has suggested that we lose more than £500 million a year in unnecessary traffic congestion. The price of land for housing has rocketed up to £12,000 per acre and in some areas there is only two or three years' supply left. The Minister of Housing and Local Government has suggested that between 1961 and 1981 there will be a 20 per cent. increase in the existing population in the South-East.
What is the position in the rural areas? Mid-Wales during this century has lost 17 per cent. of her population—37,000 people. In this connection, I am delighted to learn that the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) will be winding up this debate from the Opposition Front Bench. He did that on the last occasion when I was privileged to be drawn in the Ballot, and I look forward to hearing him on this occasion.
In parts of Scotland the population has been halved, and in this century my county of Devon has seen persistent depopulation, particularly from mid-Devon. This is not something that has happened in the past. In one rural district in my division, South Molton, in the last ten years there has been a fall of 12½ per cent. in the population. And with depopulation we have the situation today that in this small island areas which may be only 200 miles from London are now regarded as remote. This has left behind an ageing population, and the more remote an area becomes the lower the wages that can be earned. This trend is, therefore, not only socially wrong but calls for an increasing Exchequer contribution to maintain the infrastructure of the rural area. But no one can work out the social cost of the congestion to which this depopulation has contributed in the urban areas.
Which Ministry is responsible for problems of depopulation? The Ministry of Housing has been carrying out a survey in Mid-Wales. A report was received by the Minister more than a year ago, but it has still not been published. When will it see the light of day? Who is concerned about the problem of depopulation? Is it the Ministry for Industry, Trade and Regional Development? From the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary, I assume that he is. Is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food concerned; and what about the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? What sort of study is being made of the rural depopulation pattern?
The object of this debate is to ask whether this exodus from the land is inevitable or whether the Government will attempt to cheek it. Will they afford opportunities to sustain rural population, not necessarily in rural pursuits but to give employment so that people will not be forced to leave the rural areas? In my constituency, nearly two-thirds of the graduates from the technical college leave the area because there is no suitable employment to match their skills. We must face the position that while the number of people who will be employed in agriculture will continue to decline, as national standards rise, so will the ambitions of people in the rural areas rise. This makes it all the more important to provide for their employment.
I wish to suggest some ways by which we could develop the economy of the rural areas, not merely to benefit those areas but to ease the pressure on our urban centres. To those who say that development will change the nature of the rural areas, I say that rural beauty is not dependent on depopulation or poverty. I am certain that the present trend will be reversed only by conscious and intelligent planning. As a Liberal, I am in favour of regional administration for the whole country. I believe that we should have a far greater diffusion of power from Westminster and Whitehall to the regions. But one must be realistic. I do not intend to make a party point, but it is true that after all these years of administration by Conservative governments we have had only two plans for regional development, in the North-East and Scotland, plans which are largely crash action programmes to cure unemployment where other palliatives have failed. I suggest a modified scheme. If the Government are determined to prevent depopulation and this ridiculous imbalance—whereby an area 200 miles from London is remote; another area is suffering from chronic unemployment, and yet another area is so overchoked that 2,000 to 3,000 families are having to be cared for by the local authority—and are determined to redress this balance, they should, I suggest, select four rural areas to which they will deliberately and consciously pump red blood. They might be the Highlands of Scotland, the Borders, Mid-Wales and the South-West.
If the Government are prepared to do this, I suggest that they create rural development agencies. I appreciate that some hon. Members take the view that this work already could be adequately done by the existing county councils, but I believe that these problems will call for co-operation between county councils and that we may see a regional structure growing up of its own volition. These agencies would firstly have to consider what population they wanted to sustain in the rural areas and what suitable employment would be required to keep the people there.
N.E.D.C. suggested that we will need 200,000 new jobs in the next four years. To achieve that will cost £20 million. It is a lot of money, but when one considers that in 1962 we spent £37 million on unemployment pay and National Assistance, it is not a great deal of expenditure. The agencies would then have to consider what essential services are needed in the areas and ensure that any programme is matched by the provision of schools, houses, hospitals, adequate facilities for further education and amenities, such as libraries, cinemas, theatres and proper transport.
Amenities in some rural areas are extremely bad, particularly basic services. Some hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies would be outraged if they saw the conditions in some rural schools, schools which were erected in the middle of the last century, often with four outside lavatories for 100 to 120 children. Some of these buildings have no electricity, others are without hot water; many are decaying. There is no doubt that rural education will need a tremendous amount of money spent on it, with new buildings and facilities, if we are to keep people in the rural areas.
Many village schools have been shut down in recent years. In many cases this has been inevitable because by closing down village schools one is able to give children far better education in the towns. Neighbouring country towns can usually provide better facilities and standards of teaching, but I would like to feel that, wherever possible, the village school will be maintained for primary education, because it is vital that a child should be brought up in its own village, whether or not he or she will follow an agricultural pursuit.
Many of our hospitals are incredibly out of date, some of them having been built a century or more ago. It must be realised that amenities just as much as employment must be improved in the rural areas. If we work out the social and other costs of the urban provision for people who leave the rural areas, coupled with the increased rate deficiency grants needed in the depopulated rural areas, we see that it would be cheaper to pump red blood back into our rural communities.
I should like to mention the position in the county of Devon, because there, I think, the county planning officer is very realistically tackling the problem of rural planning. May I say, in passing, that we are not merely concerned with depopulation in the rural areas. Depopulation is simply a way of exporting unemployment to urban areas. But there are many rural areas which have chronic unemployment. In my own division, a rural area, it has in one centre reached 10·9 per cent. In the neighbouring constituency of Torrington—I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) in his place, because he always adds lustre and practical knowledge to our agriculture debates—unemployment is 5·9 per cent. Therefore, we are not only dealing with depopulation, which exports unemployment, but we are dealing with actual chronic, numerical unemployment.
How is the county of Devon tackling this problem? I make no apology for referring to one county, because it is the largest administrative unit in the county. We are principally rural in the centre, and we have more branch lines under threat of closure than anywhere else, with the possible exception of the Highlands, and we have two scheduled areas of high unemployment. It has been suggested that we should create in the county of Devon four regional centres—magnet towns—and that they would provide the best education, industrial sites and cultural activities, backed by first-class communications. These would be magnet towns for the surrounding rural areas.
There should be then 12 key inland towns where there would be encouragement for industry and residential development—the coastal resorts speak for themselves—and finally in 19 rural districts key settlement villages which would be the focal points for the rural districts in a radius of 8 to 10 miles. They would provide the public utilities needed, industrial development on a small scale, and, more important, social services, such as the doctor, the community centre, the police, primary education and, sometimes, secondary education, but more often not. They would be the magnet area for the surrounding villages and rural communities. I believe that is the type of development we must have in our rural areas.
There may well be a case in Mid-Wales, and, possibly, in the Highlands, for building new towns. It would be interesting to know the Minister's view on that. We know that Lord Craigton, in another place, has suggested that new towns in Scotland would be valuable because, although they would draw off population from certain rural areas, they would keep people in Scotland. We know that Lord Brecon, for precisely the same reason, has opposed new towns in Wales. So, although we expect a little controversy in another place, where there is a greater spirit of independence, it would be interesting to know the view of the Minister on the policy of new towns.
What sort of employment do we want? What sort of employment should we try to attract? I think that the first thing we must realise is that the provision of 100 to 200 jobs can revolutionise the economy of a rural area. The secretary of one development association pointed out to me that the provision of 200 jobs in a rural area can have a direct economic effect on 2,000 people living in that community. The Fort William Pulp Mill will give employment, directly and indirectly, up to 2,500 and will, therefore, revolutionise the economy of the west coast of Inverness.
In Mid-Wales, there is a case where the employment of 50 women in a small town turned a net population loss of 3 per cent. per annum into a net population gain of 3 per cent. per annum. So it does not take a tremendous amount to revitalise a rural economy. The Mid-Wales Development Corporation has had very great success in the last six years. It has formed itself into a body representing four or five counties and it has attracted 20 new firms providing 600 jobs. But I am certain that if we are to tackle the task of directing industry and employment to rural areas, although Mid-Wales may have done it on a voluntary basis, these rural development agencies will need certain powers similar to those under the Local Employment Act.
I believe that they should have powers to make improvements in the basic sevices rather like those under the provisions of Section 7 of the Local Employment Act, which has been all too little used. They should have powers to build advance factories rather like those under Section 2 of the Local Employment Act, which, again, has been far too little used, and they should be able to make building and machinery grants, and be prepared possibly to guarantee the provision of a particular labour force in order to fulfil requirements of an industry. I think that they will need these financial inducements, and if the Government are really serious about pumping employment back into these areas, it is not too much to ask them to give these agencies the powers of inducement.
The Government will have to be far stronger over the issue of industrial development certificates. Here, as the Minister will know, I have had a particular battle in the past, and I shall not go over that ground again at the moment. But it is interesting that in France it is virtually impossible to set up industry in what is known as Zone 1, which is within 22 kilometres radius of Paris. There, if one is given planning consent, it is necessary to pay a tax of 200 New Francs per sq. ft. of office floor space and 100 New Francs per sq. ft. of factory floor space. This is a very real disincentive for developing in the conurbations and industrial centres.
For a start, greater use could be made of a little-known Act, the Development and Road Improvement Fund, 1909—a beneficial Measure introduced, needless to say, by a Liberal Government—which gives the Commissioners the power to make grants for purposes which would improve agriculture and rural industry. I think that far more use could be made of the provisions of that Act.
What type of employment do we want? Immediately one will be told that the industries should be associated with agriculture. I do not think that there is much scope for that. We may be able to develop forestry, which at the moment employs only 11,000 men. We are importing 90 per cent. of our timber requirements and we could probably grow a good deal more timber in this country. If we were to expand our forestry, I should very much hope that kindred industries, such as chipboard and pulp mills, which would follow, would be sited in the rural areas, thereby being close to the raw material and providing rural employment.
The Government could make a contribution by moving offices and records into some of these areas. The research by Mr. Wallace of the School of Agriculture at Cambridge is interesting. It has shown that what is really needed are firms with a maximum employment potential of approximately 200, so that we do not urbanise and spoil the character of the countryside. He has pointed out that what is important is not the particular process in which a company is interested but its communications with head office. There will be no problem where one can have a completely self-contained unit or a completely self-contained subsidiary of a large company with headquarters elsewhere. I know of one large firm in Somerset whose production has expanded nine-fold, and it now has nine subsidiaries in different parts of Somerset. In the morning, vans deliver raw materials to those works and in the evening they collect the finished product. The advantage here was that the labour was already in the rural areas, and the local authorities were only too pleased to provide the housing to accommodate the workers. We must also realise that by providing alternative employment we help to raise the general wage structure, which in many rural areas is already far too low. Strangely enough, one of the deciding criteria is whether the directors are prepared to make the journeys between head office and the subsidiaries. This really comes down to communications, to which I now turn.
The majority of the branch lines that it is proposed to close are in these remote rural areas; there are exceptions, but for the most part these lines are in our rural communities. No one in his senses has suggested that, whatever their social cost, all these branch lines should be kept going in perpetuity. But we cannot decide what railway pattern and what rail pattern we want until we have decided what development we want at the end of the line. To decide what we will close down before we know what we want to develop is an argument which, in the Devon phrase, is completely "Backsi-for."
We have the example of the pulp mill at Fort William. The railway line between Glasgow and Fort William was to have been closed, but fortunately British Railways had not got down to that when the pulp mill came on the scene. The pulp mill people said, "We are prepared to expand and give employment to all several thousand people, if the railway is kept on." The result was that British Railways changed their minds and kept the line, but there is no doubt that had they "axed" the line a year before the pulp mill project came forward that pulp mill would not now be at Fort William.
I have mentioned a similar situation in my division, and I do not apologise for repeating it now. We had an area scheduled as being one of high unemployment and able to call on Board of Trade grants—we never get anything, but it keeps us occupied in paper work for six months. The railway line to that area is threatened with closure, so we have one Ministry prepared to pump red blood into the area while another wants to cut the arteries through which it can flow. We cannot decide what the communications are to be until we know what development we want.
The same is true of roads. The trouble we have always had with Ministry of Transport thinking is that the Ministry's criterion for road development is based on the amount of industrial traffic the roads will carry, but what I implore the Government to realise is that one of the major supporting industries in these areas is tourism. In 1961, 5 million people—or 17 per cent. of those who took their holidays in the United Kingdom—came to the South-West. I hope that they will not feel insulted if I say that they are the raw material of the tourist industry.
Obviously, if they are to continue to go to these areas—and it is vital to the economy of those areas that they should do so—we must have a massive road development programme in our rural areas. The provision of roads from, say, Bristol to Plymouth and Land's End; to East Wales and West Wales, and improvements in the Highlands right up to Caithness and Sutherland, could do more than any other single thing to open up all those areas to increased employment. British European Airways loses £⅓ million a year on the Highlands and Islands service. The Jack Report—about which nothing has been done—has suggested that, for social reasons, a subsidy may be needed for bus services. If the Government want to open up these areas they must spend a lot of money on improving communications.
I want to touch on some of the basic amenities that we need to keep people in the countryside, because it is no good providing employment for them if they are to leave the area. I come right down to bedrock with what I call, "Mains, drains, and a glimmer of light". I wonder how many hon. Members present here today have been in a village with no mains water, no main electricity, no main drainage, no bus service, the village school closed down, and the nearest railway station two miles away—on a line that is under threat of closure?
These villages exist today—in the second half of the twentieth century. I can take hon. Members to a village like that in my own constituency, and the hon. Member for Torrington has them in his, and so, possibly, has the hon. Member for Anglesey. People just do not realise that these conditions exist today. Perhaps hon. Members from industrial areas do not know what it means to have to rely on one's own generator for an electricity supply with the disadvantage of waiting for fuel to be delivered from outside or, perhaps, if one is old and living in a cottage and cannot afford electricity, having to rely on gas lighting or on paraffin lamps. In these cases there is no question, of course, of having a television set—that is a modern acquisition that is years into the future. But these conditions exist today in our rural communities.
What is the position with regard to electricity? The only farms, the only rural areas, which can claim 100 per cent. electrification are the 82 farms in the London area. Apart from that, we have achieved 85 per cent. electrification, but there are still black spots in the South-West, South Wales, and Merseyside and North Wales. What I have to say is by no means a criticism of the electricity boards. They inherited a shocking, an appalling, situation, and have done a staggering amount since vesting date. If only the electricity industry could have been nationalised years before it was we should probably by now have cured the problem of rural electrification.
The Select Committee Report has pointed out that rural electrification costs each board an average of £ ½ million a year. By Section 13 of the Electricity Act, 1957, each region has to make a profit, or break even, taking one year with another. Therefore, each region can afford only as much rural electrification as it can subsidise from the urban consumers, so the less the profit from urban receipts the slower the rate of rural electrification. I should have preferred to see the criterion stated in the Hydro-Electric Development (Scotland) Act, 1943, which is that the Board should have regard to providing electricity for
… the social and economic betterment of sparsely populated areas.
The story of Scottish rural electrification is one of tremendous success.
It is true that farmers are able to get grants for rural electrification, but farms represent only between 10 per cent. and 15 per cent. of rural dwellings. The members of the Select Committee, with all the assurance and confidence of urban-minded people, have suggested that there must be a limit on the capital spent by the electricity boards, and a possible review of agricultural tariffs, rather suggesting that a good job is being done and there is nothing much to worry about.
Let us break that down into ordinary terms. I represent a rural division which, in November, 1963, had 65 per cent. electrification. That will rise in March, 1964, to 70 per cent., and will reach 80 per cent. in March, 1965. I therefore know that, in two years time, one-fifth of the rural areas in my constituency will still be without electricity.
It is true, and I accept it, that receipts from rural connections are very often lower than those in urban areas, but I believe that there is a tremendous job to be done in encouraging rural users to increase their consumption. We are yet in the infancy of crop-drying and soil heating, and conveyor belts are used in many different processes of agriculture. Difficulties can be overcome by means of publicity and propaganda.
I am quite certain that if we are to revitalise the countryside we must have very nearly 100 per cent. rural electrification. If the Government are determined to stick by Section 13 of the 1957 Act—the profitability criterion—we must decide as a matter of national investment by Exchequer grant that by a certain year we shall have 98 per cent. electrification and no nonsense about it. It can be done, and many European countries have done it. It must be a thing of the past that people are expected to live by gaslight and paraffin lamps.
As for piped water and main drainage, it may interest the House to know that there are no ministerial figures of the number of houses without main drainage and without piped water. I rang up the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. There are no statistics available. Presumably they have never been compiled. Perhaps this is indicative of the attitude which has made so many of our rural areas into rural slums in the conditions of the last century. I have, however, obtained some figures and I find that 53·6 per cent. of our farms have piped water, 12·7 per cent. have a private pipe supply on the estate, 17·4 per cent. have a piped source on the farm but not to the farmhouse, 10·8 per cent. have a supply on the farm which is not piped, and 5·5 per cent. have no supply at all.
It is true that there is a 35 per cent. Exchequer grant towards the cost of main water connection, subject to the deduction of the equivalent urban charge. It is true that the Government will say that drainage and water connections are, respectively, a matter for the local council or water board and that they can always turn to the Government who will give them a 35 per cent. grant. It is very often the rural district councils or water boards who need to spend most on main water connections and drainage schemes who have suffered most from depopulation and, therefore, have a far lower rateable value or low income subscribers. I am convinced that we shall need to tackle the question of piped water supply and drainage on a national basis and have a crash programme for both.
Again, there are no figures giving details of drainage. The only reason why I am able to give the House a few figures which may be interesting is that a colleague of mine, a prospective Liberal candidate in Hertfordshire, Mrs. Dangerfield, has circulated all the rural district councils in England and Wales. She found that out of a total of 474 councils, 371, or 75 per cent., replied that 3,582 villages have main drainage, 1,080 have partial main drainage and 2,288 have no main drainage at all. Some depend on Elsans, some on buckets, and some on septic tanks which are drained free only once a year with certain exceptions.
The ordinary drainage cost is between 17s. 6d. and 30s., and ideally the tanks should be drained once a month. I have been in villages where the drainage overflows and runs down the village street. These are the people whom the former Prime Minister might more truthfully describe as living in the effluent society. This is a shocking situation in a rural area. Therefore, not only must we have the basic services but we must realise that if young people are to live in these rural areas they must have the amenities of education, the arts, libraries, and theatres, with perhaps only four magnet towns in areas the size of Devon for recreation and entertainment. They must also have buses which will enable them to go into the towns and return the same night. This is very important.
I hope that I have indicated some of the reasons why I think it is vital that we prevent rural depopulation, as much for the sake of our urban communities as for the rural areas. I hope that I have indicated some of the powers which will have to be provided to attract industry of the kind we need, and why we must improve the infrastructure in terms of roads and railways, power supplies, water supplies and drainage.
The one vital industry in the country is agriculture. When it is realised its goods and services are worth £1,800 million a year, no one can doubt the extreme importance of agriculture to the well-being of the countryside. It is a sobering thought that the real net income of the farming community has progressively declined. When a survey was carried out on 5,000 farms in 1960–61 it showed that 32 per cent. had an income of £600 and under, and 45 per cent. an income of £800 and under.
This is not the occasion for branching out into what I might call farm policy, but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade might tell his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that the net next Annual Price Review will be of crucial importance to the agriculture community, because it will indicate quite clearly whether the agriculture community will be allowed to catch up with the income enjoyed by other parts of the community and whether, for example, the small farmer will be able to obtain a fairer price for his products. At the moment, the standard quantities concept in agriculture has a restrictive effect on farm policy. Again we must realise that marketing is becoming far more technical and highly skilled and that the farmers must have more help in this respect if they are to be competitive.
We shall discover from the next Price Review whether we are to have a healthy countryside in which we can raise the standard of living of the countryside or see it depopulated and turned into a sort of game preserve for shooting parties and safaries. The Industrial Revolution killed some of the small craft industries in the country and we have never yet made a conscious effort to redress the balance between town and country.
I do not want to paint the picture in over-black tones, but today many parts of the Highlands have been deserted by the crofters. In the slums of Glasgow there are many of the descendants of Highlanders from the clearances of the last century, which were one of the most wicked acts of landlordism ever perpetrated in this country, and far worse than anything, that happened even in Ireland. Today there are villages with a smaller population
than they had 100 years ago. There are hamlets which have decayed and in some cases ceased to exist while towns are swoller, and overcrowded. This process can be reversed. Once young people have left the rural areas they never return, and with Oliver Goldsmith we can say
Even now the devastation is begun,
And half the business of destruction done;
Even now, methinks, as pondering here I stand,
I see the rural virtues leave the land:
If we share Goldsmith's devotion to the countryside let us resolve as a nation to stop this wanton bloodletting from the rural areas.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) on choosing this Motion following his luck in the Ballot. I congratulate him also on his speech. With one or two exceptions, to which I shall draw attention later, there was very little in it with which I disagreed. He put the case extremely ably. He painted on a wide canvas, a wider one than I wish to use, but I think that he covered all the essentials which those of us who love the countryside and live in the countryside and who wish to see prosperity in the countryside would wish to see covered.
This is a very widely drawn Motion. When the hon. Gentleman kindly rang me up and said, "This is the Motion I shall put on the Order Paper tomorrow", I said to him, "It looks to me as if we can talk about almost anything, except possibly multi-storey flats". I make no excuse for going over some of the ground which the hon. Gentleman has already covered. What I like to do is to point out the immediate problems and then look at the four essential long-term problems and suggest some remedies.
As the hon. Gentleman said, this is a subject which is little understood by 80 per cent. of the population and therefore, of necessity, by 80 per cent. of Members of Parliament. They take for granted, for example, mains water, electricity and drainage. I do not think that they understand what we mean by the drift from the land. They have not seen it happen. To them the country is a part of England, Scotland or Wales that they go to in the summer time; they see farmers in their shirt sleeves in the fields; they see the sun on the backs of the cows. They think, "What a lovely part of the world to live in; how pleasant, and how nice". They sit by the wayside; they eat their sandwiches; and they chuck their empty bottles into my fields.
To those of us who live in the country all the year round this is a very real problem. In the last 10 years in my part of the world, taking four urban and five rural district council areas, there has been depopulation to the extent that 2,635 people have left the area, which is a drop of 10 per cent. This is a remarkable figure.
I shall start by talking about the immediate problems of amenities. The hon. Gentleman touched on all that I would wish to touch on, and I hope that the House will forgive me if I give a few figures which are more localised but which will perhaps make the point as he did. I shall in part disagree with him in some of the remarks that he made about this. First, water. The area covered by the North Devon Water Board is a vast rural area. In the past five years great strides have been made. In the 5¾ years to December, 1963, the board has laid 500 miles of main pipeline; it has connected 1,712 farms, which is very nearly a quarter of the total number of farms of 150–300 acres in Devon; it has connected 10,042 other premises, at a total expenditure of over £2 million. We have had problems, which we have discussed in the House, over water supplies in rural areas, because we have Devon Water Boards and we have some independent water undertakings in Devon. I know that the hon. Gentleman believes that water supply should be nationalised. I personally feel that the time has come when the North Devon Water Board must be allowed to take into its orbit all the remaining water undertakings which are now independent. In fact, as a result of the board's efforts, it is fair to say that by and large the problems in connection with main water have been solved in this area.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I should like to underline what he has said. I did not seek to criticise any particular board, not even this one, which has done a marvellous job. I am wholly in agreement with that.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps I may at this moment say that what I am trying to do is to point out in the first part of my speech that I believe that on the amenity side the position is now fairly well under control. The long-term problems of industry, communications, and so on, to which I shall come later, are the problems that we have to solve. Once wealth is brought back into the countryside, the remaining problems of electricity and water will solve themselves.
As to electricity, I will take the West Devon area of the South Western Electricity Board as an illustration of what has been done in the past five years. Five years ago 46 per cent. of the farms were connected. Now 85 per cent. are connected. In the same area, in 1959–60 48 per cent. of other premises were connected. Now 90 per cent. of other premises are connected. This again shows a very marked improvement, with an expenditure of about £1 million.
I know that the hon. Gentleman has taken a great deal of trouble to look into the problems connected with the Section of the Act which he mentioned. I understand—I am open to correction—that in fact the Central Electricity Generating Board from its central funds specifically provides rural development funds for the area electricity boards, including the South Western Electricity Board.
I turn to sewerage. I thought that the only remark that the hon. Gentleman made in the whole of his speech which was entirely and absolutely unnecessary was the one about "affluent" and "effluent", but I have heard him make it before. I hope that he will now forget about it. In the largest rural district in my constituency—Okehampton—out of 33 possible villages and hamlets which could be connected to sewerage systems, but which can only be connected when the main water comes—that must be remembered—18 schemes have been done and are satisfactory; seven are in the process of being done; three have to be improved; this leaves only five which are impractical. It is essential to bear in mind that in rural areas there are bound to be hamlets which are so scattered in nature that it is impossible to carry out any form of sewerage work.
So much for the three main points of water, electricity and sewerage on the amenity side.
I turn now to what I call some halfway houses—that is, services connected with the rural problem. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the hospital service. Here we are making great strides in the right direction. Not only have we got in our part of the world a hospital which is now on the drawing board and which will shortly, we hope, be started, but it is recognised that people wish to be able to visit their relatives in hospitals. To this end more specialists are being brought in to more local hospitals so that people are not taken miles away if they require some specialist operation. This is a good point.
As to housing, in the rural districts the lack of rate deficiency grant for council house building is resulting in quite long waiting lists, in spite of rural depopulation. We hear and read in the Press that the average earnings are £16 10s a week, or whatever the figure may be, but it must be borne in mind that the average earnings in rural districts are probably much nearer £9 to £10 a week. A rent of 42s. a week, which would be the economic rent which a rural district council would have to charge is entirely beyond, and is out of proportion to, the amount which any person should be expected to spend out of his income on the rent of his house. Obviously there is no great demand for large new housing estates, but there is undoubtedly a need for a greater rate deficiency grant in the rural areas.
On education I think I can give perhaps the most remarkable example of rural depopulation. In my constituency since I was elected in October, 1959, nine primary schools, one all-age school, and one secondary modern school have been closed. That is a remarkable number. One new secondary modern school has been opened. This, interestingly enough, is in the purview of Exeter and in the only part of the constituency which has increased its population in the past five years. I agree with the hon. Member I have been fighting this battle for the retention of village primary schools which are part of the fabric of their particular community.
I am not sure that I have not been behaving like Canute, although in this case the tide is not coming in but going out, and one has to expect to see the closure of more village schools. I hope that local education authorities in all rural areas concerned will think very carefully before they close village schools. I agree with the hon. Member that secondary education is not feasible unless the children go to larger centres of population. But in Devon alone, talking of the standard of schools, it is a fact that for the period 1964–65 we have had our proposed building and improvement to schools programme cut by 90 per cent., which is a very large figure. One has the problem in rural areas of the distances which not only primary school children have to travel, but which those who wish to take part in specialist or technical education have to travel.
To sum up the first part of what I want to say. I think that in the normal amenities the improvement has been rapid recently compared to 10 or 15 years ago, but the fundamental problems, which I believe to be better communications, prosperous agriculture, industry and rural transport, have neither been solved nor co-ordinated. In between there are certain short-term palliatives to consider before one comes to these four basic problems. In the interim period we have had certain crash programmes. Development districts themselves are part of those programmes. In the recent allocation of money for increased classrooms and the like in the educational programme which is to be completed by the end of March there is another example. Grants have been given for various particular projects such as improvement of village halls or the change-over of the village school to a village hall, but these are palliatives in the short-term.
I turn now to the long-term view to see if it is possible to find what must be done in order to get a resuscitation in the countryside. I mention first the Report which was got out by the Joint Committee for the Economy of the South West. This is the sort of effort of which I should like to see more in future. Here I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Member in that he wants to see regional government or much more regional control than I do. I should like to see the initiative for improvement and change coming from the councils and officials in the area itself. I believe that there must be central control, because it is only by central control that the necessary balance between regions can be maintained rather than that one region should fight for more for itself than another region within the concept of the country as a whole. That is why I welcome particularly the appointment of my right hon. Friend, not only as President of the Board of Trade but as the Minister responsible for regional development. I believe that this is the greatest step and the greatest hope for the countryside there has been since I have come to this House.
I wish also to draw attention to a paragraph in the Report I mentioned. It says:
The principal handicap in the development of the area …
It is talking about the South-West of England as a whole—
is the poor communications both within the area and between the area and the rest of the country.
When I was trying to decide which of my four main points I should put first, I finally came to the conclusion that the priority must be given to communications. I wrote down, "Roads, roads, roads". All the councils to which I wrote before this debate replied saying that the main priority, setting aside all the other things that have been mentioned by the hon. Member and so far by myself, is better communications.
That is so for obvious reasons. It is so because we have to open up the countryside, but it is so for three broad reasons each depending upon the other. Without diversity of opportunity the young will be sucked into the large cities. Without good communications industry will not come to these areas and give that diversity of opportunity which will keep people in these areas, and unless we have good roads and railways the young folk will not put down their roots in rural areas surrounding the towns in which the industries settle. So I feel it essential to concentrate first on communications.
Of course the ideal in the South-West would be a continuation of the motorway, as the hon. Member suggested, to Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and down to Land's End with a spur to North Devon, but this, I am afraid, is in the distant future. I stick, therefore, to the essential improvements which we need now. We are not spending anything like enough on our classified roads even if we are to bring them up to the Ministry of Transport standards of today, let alone for the future. Figures from a traffic census taken between 1954 and 1961 show an increase of 50 per cent. in the number of private car units in the 16-hour day. The traffic growth over the whole country is normally 5 per cent. compound increase a year but in Devon it is 6 per cent. compound increase per year, partly of course because of holiday traffic.
This means that if we were to bring up our trunk and classified county roads to the Ministry of Transport standards we should have to spend £90 million, £38 million on trunk roads, and £52 million on county roads. If we were to make sense of this and to say that we could plan for growth in the future and look forward over the next 20 years we should have to spend £136 million at the rate of £6¾ million a year.
I am indebted for these figures to a very good report which the county surveyor has produced and which I am sure the hon. Member has read. It shows conclusively that if we continue spending at the rate of £1¼ million a year in this year, and project it at that rate over the next five years, we shall get further and further behind with the road programme in the South-West.
I do not want to say much about this because I was fortunate enough to be able to make a brief intervention in a speech of 4th December in our debate on regional development, when I put communications first, but I must impress on my right hon. Friend the urgency of this question. Here, as in the other main themes, I want to make one suggestion. I agree that many of our branch lines will have to be closed. There is one railway line which ambles through my constituency which takes £10,000 in receipts a year and costs £100,000 to run. Nobody in their senses would expect this railway to remain open, and I do not believe that there will be an objection to its closure when that takes place. But I should have thought that it was a reasonably cheap possibility to do what has been done in one place in the Eastern Counties, and that is to turn these railways into roads. I am talking about single-line running. I fully accept that there is the problem of viaducts and tunnels, but these roads can be one-way for some classes of traffic. This would take such traffic off the main arterial roads and would benefit the communications in our part of the world.
I turn to the second main problem, which is that of agriculture. It is rather impertinent to quote from one's own speeches, but I should like to do so on this occasion because I do not think that I can put it any better than I put it then, and because I should like to repeat what I said in a previous speech. Speaking of farming, I said:
Evolution towards larger units is taking place, but what the House must ask itself is this: does it only wish to deal with it in £ s. d. or does it think, as I hope it does, that the social pattern of our countryside should be taken into account as well? This social pattern centres on the local village or market town. This is a heritage which we should not lightly throw away. We should cushion this evolution. We do not want to drive farmers and farmworkers wholesale from the land.
I believed this to be true. I still believe that what I said then is equally true today, but I cannot pretend that these criteria are being properly fulfilled today. One can make anything one likes of figures about farming, and I do not want to dwell on present-day farming in any detail, although it forms a major part of the Motion. But it is a fact, as the hon. Member said, that farm incomes have at best lagged badly behind the incomes of other sections of the community and at worst, taking the most favourable view of the farmers' case, have dropped over the past eight or ten years.
I believe that it is fundamental to the prosperity of the countryside that the main industry of that countryside should prosper, otherwise the volume of wealth spent in the countryside decreases and decay and decline must follow. I hope that in the Price Review we shall see a real injection into farming incomes and that in dealing with the new plans for the control of imports we shall see that the home farmer gets a larger share of the home market as time goes on.
There are many grants specifically aimed at helping the smaller farmer and at trying to sustain the smaller farmer, in spite of the evolution which is taking place. But let us make no mistake that there is an evolution. Interestingly enough, in Devon, in the 150–300 acre group of 8,000 farms—indeed, in all farms in Devon—over the past five years there has been a decrease of approximately 100 farms, but the decrease in the number of farm workers has been considerably more—not just 100 but a decrease of 2,500 on figures between over 18,000 and over 15,000. That is a very large decrease indeed. One is allowed to ask whether this is forced efficiency. One does net keep a dog and bark one-self, but I am not certain that there are not too many farmers who have to be shepherd and sheepdog at the same time; that mechanisation is not being taken too far; and that too much land is not being badly farmed because of lack of labour on the land.
I have disagreed with the Minister of Agriculture on three of the last four Price Reviews. When I was able to agree with him absolutely it was when he started syndicate co-operative grants, because I believe that co-operation is essential. The alternative is that many farmers will be driven off the land as the farm workers are being driven off it today, and we shall be left with huge fields and comparatively few farmers. We shall then have complete rural depopulation and a complete drift from the land once and for all.
In this respect I should like to make one suggestion: we should consider how else we can introduce co-operative grants and encourage co-operation. I believe that the young farmers of today are much mere ready to co-operate and believe much more in co-operation than did their fathers. Let us suppose that a group of farmers will work together. If farmers will do this, let us give them worthwhile financial grants to do it. On six farms, possibly of an acreage of 500, it seems to me that, in Devon parlance, there would now be shippons and parlours for 20 cows. Let us give a worthwhile grant so that one farmer looks after the milking, and there is a milk parlour and covered yard of the size which would take the herd which could be carried on the much larger unit. The same criteria would apply in other forms of husbandry.
By this means the farmers could all stay on the land and much of the drudgery which is so common on the smaller farms today could be taken out of farming. This is one way in which help could be given in the future; it would be a worth-while encouragement to co-operation, which is the lifeline for the future if we are to maintain the rural population.
I have been very interested in the proposals put forward by the Labour Party. I do not disagree with their suggestions that we should allow the elderly farmer, who cannot afford to leave his holding, to live in his farmhouse and to have a worthwhile standard of living. My disagreement is that the land would be taken over by the Land Commission. But this is outside the terms of reference of the Motion. It is right that all parties should be thinking about this problem, because agriculture is the main industry of the countryside, and it is no good our talking about anything else if we do not have a prosperous farming community.
May I turn to the diversification of industry? Not long ago I was able to make a short speech on this subject, and I do not want to say too much about it today, but it is true that many of our intelligent young people from the country leave the countryside because there is a lack of diversity of opportunity. For this reason we have emphasised that we must have many more industries, not too large in size, moving into the smaller towns.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Devon county plan, and I should like to come back to that a little later on, but talking of towns I think it is important that towns should be sufficiently close so that we do not leave a hinterland area from which it is too far to travel to work, but sufficiently far apart so that they do not overspill into one another and the object of the exercise is lost. Then within we should allow diversification of businesses as the hon. Member suggested.
We find to our cost in my part of the world that too often one has all one's eggs in one basket, and if that particular basket of eggs is dropped, as happened recently in my constituency, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, then we have a sudden increase in unemployment, which in our case was 7 per cent. overnight.
I think that here there is a strong argument, having got the industries down to these areas, for subsidising the transport of goods for the industries thereafter. I understand that this is done in Germany today for the simple reason, and a very good economic reason, of the amount of time which is wasted by industrial goods travelling around in the congestion in the conurbation if these industries come and increase on the periphery of the conurbation. We might well save that money if we were to subsidise their transport costs and force them further afield. I think that this is something the Government might well consider.
The hon. Member may be interested to know that when the Local Employment Bill was going through I moved an Amendment to seek to do just what he has mentioned. It was rejected by the then President of the Board of Trade on the ground that transport costs in this country were not a significant factor in the overall cost of the product.
I am most interested to hear that. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, in spite of what the President of the Board of Trade said, that having thought over this problem recently, I think it is a subject which might well be looked at again. I will put it no higher than that. It is undoubtedly true, as one knows, that one's costs increase today because of traffic conditions, and one would think that this would be well worth while looking at again.
To turn to the problem of rural transport. The Jack Committee's Report came out some years ago. We have had one debate on it, initiated by a back bencher on a Friday or in private Members' time one evening. That was the only time we have debated this subject although this is surely one of the fundamentals if we are to have a prosperous countryside in the future.
I should like to start what I have to say about this by quoting from the preliminary Report which has just recently been published on Rural Transport Surveys, one of these surveys being carried out in a comparatively small
part of the 700 square miles of which my constituency consists. This is what it says:
People were asked if they were hindered by local transport difficulties … Overall between about half and three-quarters of persons in households without private transport said they were hindered in some way. The proportion of persons in households with private transport reporting difficulties was much lower but still substantial, commonly about a fifth.
I draw the attention of the House to Appendix E of the Jack Report. Hon. Members will find that in the four years from 1958–61 inclusive there was a reduction in total weekly mileage run by buses of 46,000 miles. Table 1 of this preliminary survey shows that only 44 per cent. of the households which were surveyed in the area of my constituency had some form of private transport other than a pedal cycle; only 44 per cent.
So there is no doubt at all that the lack of public transport facilities causes hardship, particularly, as the hon. Gentleman said, to the elderly who have never learned to drive. It creates a sense of isolation. I do not say that this is of paramount importance. In fact, in an area of my constituency which shall be nameless there was a petition got up that a bus should be run between A and B. The Devon General ran a bus. For three years they ran a bus, and in that three years exactly three people used the bus. So they took the bus off again. Whereupon the local inhabitants got up another petition to ask that the bus be kept on. I still believe that up to a point there is a feeling of isolation, and one can see the object of the exercise there. They wanted the bus in case they wanted to use it. The trouble was that they did not use it.
There must, however, be a case for a stage service, both for work and for recreation, a very important point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. To support this premise, and the premise in the Jack Committee's Report, I think one should look at what the Committee said on page 27, that
we think that any solution involving financial assistance should be related to the circumstances of each case, including the hardship and inconvenience which would arise if the service was to be withdrawn, and that it should not be based on any general formula of overall costs per vehicle mile or even of operating costs per vehicle mile.
This is a view with which I very much agree. This is why after all the talk of subsidies the reduction of fuel tax—which. I think, is a palliative—should be used till we have a proper rural transport system worked out which makes sense.
Eventually the solution of the rural transport problem must be on a local basis, and it is for this reason that I would suggest that there should be for each reasonably sized rural area a deputy traffic commissioner. The House will know that at the moment the Traffic Commissioner for the South-West deals with at least five counties.
It is fairly common that if a small bus operator who probably is a garage proprietor puts in to run a service—he makes money out of excursions as well as a stage service—the big boys will put in an objection, and this frightens him off. It is perfectly possible under Section 62(2) of the Road Traffic Act, 1930, to have a deputy traffic commissioner. There might be two or three for Devon, for example. They, seeing the needs of the area, can allocate routes to those who are prepared to run licensed services, whether with minibuses or whether with small buses, in the interlacing areas in the hinterland, or the bigger companies on the main routes.
It is perfectly ridiculous that the Minister of Education lays it down that local education authorities must accept the lowest tenders for school transport even if as a result—and it often is so—the contract goes to somebody who is not even licensed to run a bus when he puts in his tender. He gets the contract. It should surely go to a person who is prepared also to run a stage service during the day. If this were done I think we could rationalise our rural transport, and I believe that subsidy should be paid—for subsidy will be necessary somewhere—through local councils which, after all, know the needs of their areas. Therefore, although I agree with much of what the Jack Committee says, I disagree that the county council should be the arbiter of the subsidy.
It depend; so much, I agree, on the size of the county, but if the local council, precepting maybe on the county rate, in conjunction with a deputy commissioner were to deal with the problem, we should be going a long way towards solving the difficulty that people have in getting from one place to another in the countryside.
I have spoken for longer than the hon. Member for Devon, North and I apologise for doing so, but this is the first time since I have been a Member of the House that I have had a chance to speak on all the subjects that always concern me and it is very likely that it will be the last.
I want also to mention the Devon county plan for key settlements, which will be larger villages and small towns having the essentials of schools, village halls, shops, bus routes and communications and priority for housing estates. There are too few of them, and more are required. It may defeat the object of the exercise to have too many, but, looking at my constituency, I think there are too few.
Still, it is the right approach. It makes sense. One must have magnets—towns as magnets for industry and recreation, large villages and small towns as magnets round which people will live and in the communal life of which they will play their part, in the church, chapel and village hall.
Speaking of the South-West, one must also mention the tourist trade and holiday industry. In 1961 5 million people poured into Devon and Cornwall, and we want them to continue to do so, but they will not unless communications are good. That is the first essential. Also, we do not want to see coastal sprawl as we have seen urban sprawl. I hope that the authorities responsible for coastal areas will ensure that development occurs only in certain places. I am delighted that certain areas in the constituency of the hon. Member for Devon, North are now part of the National Trust and cannot be built on. This is excellent. We have seen too much coastal sprawl, and, apart from the fact that it is most unpleasant to see, if it goes on I am afraid the holidaymakers will go abroad.
Another essential for the holiday trade is staggered holidays. At the moment the great weight of holidaymakers comes to our part of the world in the very short period of August and early September. Great efforts have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew), who has now been elevated to a junior Ministerial post, to have school holidays staggered. This is a "must". I am sure that the examinations problems will be overcome. From the point of view of holidays and entry into industry, I am sure that staggered school holidays are essential.
I quote two sentences from the Report dealing with regional development in the north-east of England:
The over-riding need is to diversify the region's economic life—to broaden the economic base by the development of a wider range of enterprises. This will require a sustained effort over many years.
This could equally well be said by any region in the country which is mainly rural.
We are talking about something we want not just to preserve but to rejuvenate. A great deal has to be done, but if it is done properly we shall no longer see articles like that in The Times the other day, the heading of which was:
The drift from Devon's dying hamlets.
I do not think that, even if I tried very hard, I could fail to follow the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) or my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne). I do not for a moment say that in criticism. They covered such a wide area, and an area with which I so much agree, that it would be impossible not to follow at least some of the points they made.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Devon, North on his very good fortune in winning the Ballot, and his great sense in selecting this subject for debate. The hon. Members who are in the Chamber at this moment demonstrate that the battles which we countrymen fight for our countryside are not just a matter of party politics. They are sometimes fought, I regret to say, against our own colleagues. They are non-party to a very large extent. Those of us who understand and believe in country life and wish to preserve it have a passionate determination to protect it.
I want to refer to one aspect which is absolutely essential to the well-being, prosperity and happiness of the countryside, and that is the preservation of the small market town. Rather like the hen and the egg, it is not easy to decide which is the more responsible for the other, the small town or the countryside. But both are inseparable from the problem that we are discussing.
A great deal of all that is best in country life is centred in the small old market towns which for hundreds of years have provided the neighbourliness and hospitality which are a part of our British way of life. They give the British countryside its character and dignity, and to any countryman it is unthinkable that they should pass away. Yet if one looks beneath the outward appearance of peace and contentment, the small country towns are today facing a very real and dangerous problem.
The populations are ageing. The numbers are decreasing. The statistics show no unemployment, but when one really examines the situation one finds that that is because the unemployment is being exported and is adding to the problems of the already over-populated areas. In the areas where there is unemployment, this is making what is deplorable even worse. So, really, there is, in fact, unemployment in the countryside.
The boys and girls of the countryside are leaving to take jobs in the already overcrowded areas. As has been said, the opportunities to work at the old skills and in the traditional manners of the countryside are fading away. The saddlers, the blacksmiths and other crafts which seemed in the past to be inseparable from our countryside are going. The stock and produce markets are in danger from modern methods of marketing. Who can say how long the stock and produce markets of our small country towns will continue in view of the advance in so-called modern marketing which is pervading the whole of our national business?
The small, friendly, cottage hospitals are perhaps not frightfully efficient but they are part of the small country market towns and mean a tremendous amount to the people who live in them. I sometimes wonder whether this passion for efficiency pure and simple is really the answer. I used to study economics at Manchester, and in those days I was very taken with the idea of efficiency for efficiency's sake. As I got a little older and more experienced, I realised that commonsense and adaptibility are far more important when considering the wellbeing and happiness of any area than the pure, hard bitten economics one learns when young.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Devon, North said about departmentalism and the regional idea. The Government have gone a stage further in the appointment of my right hon. Friend as Secretary of State for Industry, Trade and Regional Development. But my right hon. Friend really must shoulder the responsibility. We do not want excuses of departmentalism to upset the duties which we desire him to undertake. We need him to take all the problems of the countryside under his wing and to realise the humanity and the human problems which exist under the hard headed economics preached by his Department.
The diminution of business in small country towns has led to lack of public transport from outlying villages, while even some of the age-old grammar schools, so essential to these towns, are being taken away, presumably in the interests of centralisation or progress. These things are happening in very many of our small market towns. I have generalised, and it may well be that it would not be easy to find a market town in which all these things were happening at once, but some are to be found in every town. They are symptoms, and unless something is done now they will mean desolation tomorrow.
As a nation we are not very good at being in time, and there is not a good deal of time left for us to tackle the situation. It has not yet gone too far, however. The country market towns are still happy places to live in and there is still plenty of opportunity to deal with the situation, but if we leave it too long then, of course, it will become irreparable.
The nation has a rising population and a congested south of England. Not only must we concentrate on that planner's paradise, the new town, but also repair the old towns. We have to bring suitable industries back to the small market towns. We must help them with tie provision of amenities, to re-attract. We must tackle the re-organisation of Government boundaries in a more sensible and human way than is sometimes the case at present. We must enable these places to maintain their civic pride and use the adaptability which is the pride of the British nation.
So often we see things which do not appear to be right from the purely economic point of view and are quite insupportable logically but which are nevertheless working extremely well. We may well find, however, that many of these may be swept away by local government reorganisation.
I want us to look at these things in a much more common-sense and practical way, and it is on the shoulders of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade that the responsibility firmly lies. We have to apply the same process of common-sense in tackling transport problems. We must stop robbing ratepayer Peter to pay taxpayer Paul. We are doing great harm in our attitude towards transport in that way.
I would recommend local authorities to consider more carefully perhaps than in the past the Cambridgeshire scheme, for which I have great admiration. There, country schools are given slight extensions, not at a great deal of extra expense, and become community centres at night. That is a good thing in the smaller country towns in providing the recreation and happiness to which we all have a right.
If we do these things we shall reap great benefits, but we must do them now. Just as in education we are hoping for a great national dividend by offering to the not so obviously bright children opportunities for full secondary and higher education, so by recreating our small market towns we shall be exploiting a great new source of industrial output and wealth and—not the least important—we shall be instrumental in preserving one of the loveliest features of our country life and our national heritage.
This is election year, and I hope that the great parties, in issuing their manifestoes, will realise the importance of this. I hope that all who live in the country, whether they be Conservative, Socialist or even Liberal, will accept that these small market towns which are such a feature of national life should be preserved. I hope that in the party manifestoes these things will be mentioned when they ask for the confidence of the country.
Different parts of the country present different problems. For instance. The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) spoke of dwindling villages. In the Midlands, we have exactly the reverse. There, villages are growing so big so rapidly that they are destroying the beauty of the countryside. A new town is to be built in my constituency. I support the project because, of course, good homes must be found for people. But, if we are to have the new towns, let us try to preserve the beauty of the countryside.
Driving around the country, I am horrified to see villages being destroyed piecemeal. If, because of employment developments, more housing accommodation has to be put in certain districts, then let us have a decision to develop a particular village or town and leave the others alone. This is a very important aspect.
In mentioning two villages in my area, I want to make it clear to the clerk of the Bromsgrove Rural District Council that his administration is not being attacked. The villages are not even in the same county. The local parish councils and the people who live in the parishes are not kept sufficiently in touch with what is going on. For example, there is a housing estate in one beautiful old village, but no one knew anything about it until one morning a lot of gentlemen were found sticking pegs round a field. Notification of this sort of development ought to be displayed in the parish church so that the village people can learn what is proposed. I know that every parish is represented on the rural district council, but sometimes that representation is not all that brilliant, and in this case no one knew anything about the proposed development.
It is also very important that local people should be consulted about the type of houses to be built in their village. In a village which I know very well, some county council houses have been built to house people working in the agriculture institute, and there are also rural district council houses in the village. They have no relationship to each other. They are of different colours and they do not fit with the countryside in any respect.
One of the finest examples of what I have in mind is to be found in the village of Aynho, which is to the south of Banbury. This is a beautiful old village with almost all the houses built entirely of stone. Some years ago, a new housing estate of quite a few houses was built. They were ordinary conventional houses made of brick, but the authorities were wise enough to face them with stone, with the result that Aynho is still a beautiful village. Surely more of this could be done. I hate to see buildings which are horrible and completely out of place in villages composed of thatched cottages and so on.
I had lot appreciated that my hon. Friend had left what he was saying about parish councils being kept informed by rural district councils. What he said applies not only to the instance which he mentioned but is general. It is something which we would have to take into account when framing legislation, for the parish councils must be kept in the picture.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that comment, because it is quite true.
Another aspect of this piecemeal destruction—it is not really destruction but rebuilding, although it is destruction of much of the beauty of our villages—is concerned with the schools. In the village where I live, there is an extremely good church school which has a wonderful record for tuition and for the general standard of education. With the advent of the large housing estate nearby, it was completely inadequate and had to be extended. This very good school had a fine reputation for a long time, but it was capable of coping with only a small increase in population, and when large housing estates are built in villages like this proper modern school buildings must be provided for them and should be in concentrated areas and not scattered all over the countryside.
Finally on this aspect of the matter, I want to refer to the ordinary services, water and drainage and electricity and so on. We are fortunate in the Midlands in that these services exist in many villages, but if the villages are extended by 50, 60, or 100 houses, these services can become completely inadequate and great expenditure is incurred on increasing service supplies to these villages. If at the beginning of new development there is a concentration on certain areas, then services going to the older part of the village would be adequate and new services could be provided for the new estates more easily
Much has been said about rural transport, and I know that many people have been worried about what is to happen when the rail closures take place. I entirely agree with Dr. Beeching that there must be some closures. When I journeyed from Worcester to Stratford-on-Avon by train, I went through nine stations and only nine passengers got on the train. That sort of thing is obviously hopeless and rural bus services will have to take the place of the trains.
Many people have been worried about what is to replace the railway luggage van which carries their prams, heavy parcels and so on if a railway line is closed and they have to travel by bus. For this reason I was delighted to get a Press handout from the Ministry of Transport in connection with a demonstration given to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport on 20th January. I have a photograph of a trailer which can be towed behind a bus which can carry much luggage of various sizes. The handout says:
At present, buses in public service are not permitted to tow trailers (except gas trailers); but the Minister has circulated proposals to amend the law to allow this to be done in certain circumstances.
This is first-class, and my right hon. Friend should have a pat on the back for having anticipated our needs. The trailer in my photograph was designed for London Airport and for dealing with the larger sizes of aircraft. The idea is that the trailer is hitched on to the ordinary B.E.A. bus and taken straight to the aircraft. However, this trailer could easily be adapted for rural use. The handout says:
There may also be a use for such trailers where bus services are substituted for passenger
trains. Many buses already have adequate luggage space and it is often possible to provide more. There may, however, be instances where trailers could justifiably be used, and the Minister therefore considers that it would not be reasonable to maintain the rigidly present prohibition on their use.
I agree. I do not necessarily say that we want this size, and we shall obviously have to be flexible. I know the Devon lanes quite well, and although the area is beautiful the lanes are difficult to negotiate. However, this is a suggestion in the right direction. The trailer in the picture I have contains amongst its load an invalid cart, a pram, a lot of luggage and even a pair of skis. I want some publicity to be given to this idea, because no one seems to know anything about it. People in the country are still worried about how they are to transport their goods, and I hope that the Minister will let the public know what a jolly good job he has done in producing this idea.
This trailer system might be developed as a general delivery system in the rural areas, especially as more and more supermarkets are cropping up and fewer and fewer tradesmen are able or willing to deliver in the rural areas. Could not this trailer be used for a delivery service from the towns to the villages?
If a bus is to pull one of these trailers, will not some rather slow speed limit have to be imposed? Surely people living in the rural areas want fast express bus services to get from one place to another and not something which will be restricted to 20 m.p.h.?
It will obviously have to depend upon the road conditions, but I think that people would rather go slightly slower and be able to take their goods and chattels with them than not be able to take little Willie to the circus because they cannot put his pram on the bus. We must be flexible about this.
It is quite clear that we must find land for more houses, and I support the idea of new or expanded towns. But we must put an end to this straggling, piecemeal destruction of our beautiful villages.
When, as I hope, we will have developed areas and unspoiled villages, it is obvious that it will be of paramount importance to have a really adequate rural transport system.
I will not pursue the question of the rural bus with the trailer, wending its way through the country lanes. I know that transport is one of the most important problems facing those who live in the country, but I wish to refer to the building of houses in rural areas, a question which the hon. Member also mentioned. In this connection I think of the Forest of Ae, in Dumfriesshire. There is a great reafforestation scheme, taking in miles of countryside, not only have houses been provided but there is a village of timbered houses where the workers and their families live, in healthy surroundings, with a school for the children, in a self-contained community. Surely that is the type of development that we want to see in the rural areas. If we ask people to live there, they, in return, are entitled to expect us to provide them with the amenities that are enjoyed in urban areas.
Furthermore, when we build houses of the kind to which I have referred, we give the area a character all its own. Houses can be built to harmonise with their surroundings, and where they are they do not detract from the beauty of the countryside. Some of the housing schemes in rural areas, although providing housing accommodation, have not added to the picturesqueness of their surroundings.
When I heard the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) speaking, I thought that I was back in the Scottish Grand Committee, with references to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, the development of Fort William, and so on. It is quite obvious that the problem of the rural areas is pretty much the same, whether they are in Scotland, or England and Wales. Rural depopulation is going on in all our rural areas, and we would probably agree that the first requirement for reversing this process is a good agricultural policy. Without it we cannot hope to retain farm workers, and expect them to go on for ever and ever playing a secondary part, economically, to their counterparts in the towns.
In the past 12 years there has been a continuing process of depopulation in Scotland. Figures issued last week show that the average yearly loss of people over that period has been 30,000. This is not a healthy development. These people are leaving the urban as well as the rural areas, and they do not all come from the Highlands. The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) will agree that there has been serious depopulation from the Border areas. It is to this problem that we must bend our minds.
The thing that is disturbing agricultural workers and farmers in these areas is the question of the change-over involved in the Government's abolition of M.A.P. and the introduction of the winter keep scheme. This question is of tremendous importance in the rural areas. We must be in a position to assure these people that if they stay in these areas their agriculture will be made economic. Only if we do that can we hope to persuade these people to stay. The people in these areas look forward with some apprehension to what will happen next week, because it can make or break many farmers and farmworkers in the rural areas.
Furthermore, the people in these areas are entitled to expect that agriculture will not be the only industry open to them. We must have a diversification of industry. It is in this sense that forestry can play a most important part. The Forestry Commission has done a fairly good job, but in the last year or two its efforts have been thinning out—if that is the right term to use in dealing with forestry. One drawback is the difficulty of obtaining sufficient land of a suitable type on which to plant. There is always the question whether the Commission is beginning to nibble away at farm land for this purpose. Nevertheless, I am sure that a satisfactory solution can be found.
The fact is that in Scotland certain private interests are constantly standing in the way of further forestry development. The Commission can take land by compulsory purchase, but each such purchase has to be approved by the Secretary State for Scotland. If he withholds his approval there is nothing that the Commission can do about it. I should like to know whether there are any plans in being for further great schemes of afforestation in Scotland and other suitable rural areas, because, at any rate to begin with, in this way we can not only make some impression on the unemployment position, but can also create new jobs, which is very important if we are to retain people in these areas.
That is why we welcome the development of pulp mill at Fort William. This can make a tremendous contribution to the prosperity of the area, in taking up the thinnings from all the surrounding estates, and providing work. But it is an appalling thing that immediately the Government prepare to do this, hand in hand with private enterprise—because a considerable amount of money for this purpose is being loaned by the Government on special terms—the price of land immediately shoots up.
I am told that land which could have been bought for £60 or £70 an acre immediately shot up to £500, £600 and £700 an acre when the Fort William development scheme became known. We must prevent this exploitation of land values when development is suggested, because it means that certain people are, raking in great sums of money which they have not earned. Only by public development—or, in this case, private and public development together—are these projects going forward. It is essential, therefore, that the Government should deal with this problem.
It is true that, as in all rural areas, transport as a tremendous problem but, as the hon. Member for Devon, North said, the railway at Fort William would have disappeared if it had not been for the development of the pulp mill there. The rural areas want an assurance that before any more rail cuts are made, something equally good and efficient will be provided. We must have a co-ordinated transport service if we are to supply these areas. I am not suggesting that every railway line should be kept open, but in the rural areas by means of a combination of both road and rail we could provide transport facilities which would meet the convenience of people living there.
As you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a considerable part of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland depends on air services. How much longer are we to expect B.E.A. to provide these services at an annual loss of something like £250,000 or £300,000? It is not good enough to come to the House and to complain about losses on certain nationalised services and at the same time to impose on those services conditions that we would not expect to be borne by any private undertaking. These services are essential in the Highlands and Islands, and the Government should accept their responsibility in the matter. If they want these services to continue they must face up to their financial responsibility.
The independent airlines do not want to take merely the Highland services. The dispute has always been about what services they should take. B.E.A. has rightly said that it is entitled to have the good services which can earn profits, if it is to maintain these Highlands and Islands services. I beg the hon. Gentleman not to enter into this fray, because I could take his mind back to the time when the services were run by a private firm. The people concerned have now gone, so I will not go into that matter, but I can tell the hon. Member that there were never better services than those which are supplied by B.E.A. They are absolutely unsurpassed. I shall let it go at that.
We are dependent upon the Government in these matters. I do not want to be party-political this morning, but I would remind the House that the Government fought the election against nationalisation, and yet the first Bill they introduced was one to nationalise the steamer service—a Bill, as the hon. Member for Galloway will confirm, to provide a ship at State expense. All I ask is that the Government should face their responsibility.
In addition, we must have electricity supplies in these rural areas. I was glad to hear the tributes paid to these nationalised services from both sides of the House this morning. Today in the rural areas there are thousands of people who are enjoying electricity but who could not have got it without the formation of the nationalised boards. In the Highlands and Islands, and certainly on the borders, the services which are being enjoyed today would not have been provided under the old set-up. The North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board has done a first-class job and the South of Scotland Electricity Board has not been behind.
I am glad to have the approval of the hon. Member for Galloway. We are, however, running into some difficulty on the question of the part that hydro-electricity will play in the future economy of Scotland. Last night we had an Adjournment debate in which we heard that one scheme has been held up because of the objection of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He has said, "Before we go on with any more, let us have some investigation." He has set up a public inquiry into the economics of hydro-electricity. Incidentally, I was surprised this morning when I heard one or two hon. Members referring to the need to subsidise the provision of electricity. The Secretary of State has said that it is necessary to earn 8 per cent. on the capital, and it is along this line that the inquiry is taking place. This small scheme has been held up for years because of the action of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
We want to know whether the Government are in earnest about development in these areas. This type of action by the right hon. Gentleman must cause fear in these parts of the country. From an employment point of view, the situation could be catastrophic. If I recollect the figures which were given last night, only a few years ago there were 5,000 or 6,000 people engaged in hydro-electricity work in Scotland, but this figure has been allowed to run down until today it is only 1,000. Hydro-electricity can play a tremendous part in the revitalisation of the Highlands, because as these schemes go forward—not only electricity but forestry as well—not only do they accomplish the job which they are intended to do but they provide a tremendous mileage of new roads. They make a first-class contribution. If we are to have diversification—and we must have it if we are to retain the people in these areas—it is essential that these amenities and supplies which we take for granted in the urban areas should be available in the rural areas.
My final remarks concern tourism. We have had a spate of disputes about tourism in Scotland. The Government suddenly produced a scheme by which it was proposed to tax holidaymakers in Scotland by imposing a charge on hotels for every night visitors spent in them, the hotels recovering those charges from the tourists. This seems to me to be a very bad idea, and I am glad that the Scottish Tourist Board has told the Government to think again before creating all this inconvenience to the hoteliers and to the tourists in order to raise the paltry sum of £60,000 or £70,000 per annum.
Tourism makes a tremendous contribution to the country's economy and we shall not encourage it by imposing taxation on the tourists. Certainly we cannot be selective and say that tourists in England and Wales shall be untaxed but that in Scotland they shall be taxed. This was a non-starter from the beginning. If the Government want to tackle this problem in earnest, they should find a reasonable sum of money for doing the job. Then the people in the hotels and in the countryside generally will be only too anxious to use whatever money is available to attract tourists and make them comfortable. But, while tourism has its part to play, pre-eminently the amenities that I have mentioned and the provision of reasonable opportunities to work in diversified industry are the only way to retain our people in the rural areas of Scotland, England and Wales.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) who, in a commendably short speech, mentioned about 12 different subjects, from forestry villages to shipping in the Highlands. I hope that during my speech I may be able to take up some of the matters he mentioned and comment on them.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) on introducing this Motion, but I assure him that the problem is by no means confined to Devon. It is a disease in all the remote areas of the British Isles. In the last ten years, Pembrokeshire has lost over 10 per cent. of her population; Ross and Cromarty has lost 4·2 per cent.; Cornwall has lost 5·6 per cent.; and as to the area which I represent, Kirkcudbrightshire has lost 6 per cent. and Wigtownshire 7·9 per cent. Those are high enough figures, but the figure for the landward area of Wigtownshire is 15·1 per cent. In a period of just over 100 years, 50 per cent. of the population of that county has migrated, mostly to the large urban areas.
Hon. Members have referred to the problems of depopulation, such as the closing of hospitals, and the closing of village schools. I should like to call attention to one thing which is worrying my constituents very much, and that is the rise in rates due to a reduction in resources because of depopulation. No one can say that the Wigtownshire County Council is by any means over-extravagant, but according to my calculations, over the last 7 years rates have doubled. At the same time, one should note that no less than 70 per cent. of the expenditure is provided by Government grant, compared with 48 per cent. in Scotland as a whole.
The present situation is causing great heart searching among ratepayers in remote areas, and it is among the effect of making them criticise such services as education, which to my mind are essential. It is most important that in these areas the educational provision is kept up to the standard of the rest of the country. The last thing we want to be is second rate areas for education, because I feel that the future of this country depends very much on education.
The hon. Member for Leith mentioned agriculture. I entirely agreed with his remarks about the winter keep scheme. I rather wish that we could have more support from hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent English and Welsh constituencies, where one meets the problem of the marginal hill farmer. The winter keep scheme is most important One of the main objections is that not enough is being pumped into the really remote farming areas of the country, and I wish that on this matter we had a little more support from the English and Welsh.
It is important that the income of agricultural communities should be kept up, but, at the same time, if we want to cure depopulation and unemployment in remote areas, we must remember that agriculture is not the answer. According to the N.E.D.C. Report, it is estimated that between 1961 and 1966 agriculture will lose about 96,000 workers, and that coal mining, a semi-rural industry, will lose 85,000 workers.
Alternative employment will have to be found for those people. Tourism has been mentioned. It is a most useful industry for bringing money into the rural areas, but it is not a big employer of labour, though I must say in passing that it seems that there are possibilities of using our own labour rather than employing foreigners to do such skilled work as catering and cooking in hotels.
The hon. Member for Leith mentioned the Tourist Amenity Council. I think that this is a good idea, and an imaginative one, because we must appreciate that as the industrial sprawl continues, the unspoiled sea coast, and the unspoiled countryside, will be in short and rationed demand. I therefore earnestly support the idea of a Tourist Amenity Council.
At the same time, however, if that Council is to have funds, the Government must be prepared to contribute much more than the £25,000 which has been suggested, which in terms of Government expenditure amounts to virtually a farthing. It amounts to perhaps half the cost of a tank, or just enough to buy a few spares for an aircraft.
I know that the idea of the hotel levy is that it should be a charge against gross profits, but I do not regard that as satisfactory. The Government should provide larger funds, possibly on a decreasing scale, so that, as time goes on the hotel industry and tourist industry can gradually take over their own financing.
One thing that we do not want in rural areas and in unspoiled countryside is massive overspill. Nor do I think that new towns are a particularly good idea. The only effect of a new town in an area of sparse population is to draw people from the existing towns which already need help. What we need is alternative employment in small towns within travel to work distance of many of the villages.
The hon. Member for Leith mentioned the village of Ae in Dumfriesshire. I am not sure that I agree with his remarks. It is very difficult in remote villages such as Ae to produce the sort of amenities which people in the countryside want today. I think that his suggestion is perhaps the reverse of what is wanted and that one has to have more travel to work from existing communities and perhaps less isolated new settlements like the one which he described.
It is possible to have employment in small towns, and such employment can often become self-generating. In 1960 a factory making steel radiators came to Dalbeattie in my constituency. It was a tremendous boon to the people in the area and employed about 50 men. Now, three years later, it has expanded and the work force will probably grow up to more than 100 men. In Newton Stewart, Cree Mills making mohair rugs is expanding into a neighbouring village. Once one has a new industry in a small town, it often expands, and I do not think that we should regard such a project as being necessarily uneconomic.
There is a distinct gap here between areas of depopulation and developed district. Almost by definition they are not development districts because a development district has a high percentage of employment and that is not likely in an area of depopulation, for the simple reason that a large proportion of the population have gone somewhere else. There is a distinct gap here, and we have to look at the question of giving development district status to areas which are losing population.
I know at the moment the Government's policy is to develop growth points, and this policy has been set out in such documents as the White Paper on the development of Central Scotland. I do not disagree with that idea but I think that it would be unrealistic to expect that employment from such growth points as Irvine, Cumbernauld and Grangemouth will overflow into areas like the Highlands and the Solway counties for many years indeed. Nor do I think that in South Wales the employment from growth points will reach very far up the valleys into constituencies such as that of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson).
I think, therefore, that in addition we must have a policy of attracting small industries to towns in the country. This policy is feasible. It has been put into force by the West German Government, and they are by no means fools. I think that what the growth areas are really interested in is not a small form which is likely to employ about 50 people, but a big firm like the motor industry, or the Skefco Ball Bearing factory which is starting at Irvine. These sort of factories are not of much interest to the rural areas, which do not want to be destroyed by the presence of great organisations employing thousands of people. They do not have sufficient populations to begin with and there is no attraction in these places for such factories.
I would like to see the Board of Trade, as a conscious policy, instead of concentrating on growth areas for all industries, to remember that many of the smaller industries are more suitable to be induced to go to areas of relative depopulation. One retrograde step was taken by the Government on this point. When the Local Employment Act, 1963, was passed it confined the building grant to 25 per cent. Prior to that legislation the more remote areas could get a 40 per cent. building grant. The 40 per cent. rate should be returned for certain areas, such as the Highlands and the West Country, which badly need these small industries.
We could do much by initiating a further programme of advanced factories of about 10,000 sq. ft. and by putting many of them in our small towns and rural areas. In addition, there are certain industries which are particularly suitable to the rural area; for instance, those which require clean air, which can agricultural produce and which are connected with forestry.
The hon. Member for Leith mentioned Fort William, which will be a wonderful thing for the Highlands. However, that plan went ahead accompanied by a great deal of Government money. It is an open secret that there is another forestry industry floating around, so to speak, in the Border area. If that industry is to have a similar amount of Government money I hope that the Government will agree that it should go into an area in which people have laboured for 20 or 30 years in the planting of trees and now want to see the consumation of their work. I would regard it as absolutely lamentable if this new factory were induced by the Board of Trade to go to one of the big growth points such as Newcastle-on-Tyne or the West Cumberland development district, which have little connection with forestry.
Several hon. Members have referred to the subject of communications and I agree that this is one of the most important matters when opening up the remoter areas. One of the great fallacies of the Beeching Report is that one can close down railways simply because no industry has been going to an area for the last 50 or 100 years. That is stated in page 57 of the Beeching Report. That statement is entirely beside the point, because distribution of industry has not been the subject of any policy for as long as 50 years and we must put our transport needs into the pattern of the development we want to see.
Another fallacy of what I might term the "metropolitan mind" concerns the question of adequate alternative facilities for travellers who previously used the railways. Many people, including some in the Government, think that it is possible to run a sort of express bus—the type that runs between London and Birmingham along the motorway—in quick tine on country roads. This is utterly impossible. Nearly all country roads are narrow and twisting and bus routes must often go through villages to pick up and put down passengers before returning to the main roads.
For those who live in, for instance, my constituency the journey of 80 miles in a bus from, say, Stranraer to Dumfries is a punishing performance and one which no express bus could do much to improve. I regret that so little expenditure is intended on roads where railway closures have been suggested. It would be better in many cases to keep the railways open. In the case I have been citing it would mean a capital expenditure of about £2 million to provide means by which an express bus could run satisfactorily—this would save about £30,000 in terms of the present loss to British Railways. To any economist this cannot add up. Indeed, with more efficiency on the railways and with more people prepared consciously to use them—with, perhaps, the closure of a few rural stations—even this £30,000 loss could be wiped out.
I wish to reinforce what the hon. Member is saying. An independent survey carried out on one rural line indicated that a capital expenditure of £30,000 once would cut operating costs by £40,000 a year.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that information. It shows that there is room for considerably increased efficiency on the railways. As someone who travels on the main railway routes a lot, I have noticed that since the entry of Dr. Beeching there has been a considerable increase in efficiency, particularly on the main lines. It should be made clear that the real solution to the problems of our rural areas lies in a much better population distribution and the prevention of congestion in London and the Midlands. We will be discussing this next Monday and these are really twin problems.
I feel strongly about the way in which some secondhand factories are reoccupied by new industries, particularly in the metropolitan areas—that is, areas outwith the development districts. Only £8 million was spent last year under the Local Employment Act, although the N.E.D.C., as the hon. Member for Devon, North pointed out, has stated that a minimum expenditure of about £20 million is needed. Government grants in the growth and development areas are extremely good, but we must tackle the other side of the I.D.C. problem and the occupation of secondhand factories.
A few months ago the Government made what I considered an imaginative decision by deciding that Woolwich Arsenal would not be used further for industrial purposes but that it would go over to housing. It should be possible for the Government to begin a policy whereby when factories become vacant they are visited by a Government inspector and, if found to be too old, insanitary or not in accordance with factory legislation, they are bought up and the sites turned over for housing, particularly in areas where housing land is in short supply. I do not suggest that this should be done with every factory. If a factory has been erected for only a few years it is economically right that it should go on being used, but more should be done to prevent the expansion of industries in the metropolitan and Midland areas. This would be bound to redound to the credit of the more remote areas, both in a better population distribution and a better distribution of industry.
As I listened to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) I could not help reflecting that this is the first occasion on which I have heard four consecutive speeches from the benches opposite with which I found myself largely in agreement. It is a pity that their ideas cannot have greater effect on the policy of the Government. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) not only on his luck in the Ballot and on selecting this subject for debate but on his excellent speech, with which I entirely agreed.
When we discuss the problems of our rural areas it is important to remember that in almost every country rural depopulation is happening. Indeed, this process is accentuated in modernised, developed countries and it is inevitable that the technical progress in agriculture will result increasingly in the need for more agricultural capital and less labour. This is an unfortunate fact of life which we must face.
I have always passionately believed that it is the duty of any Government, of whatever complexion, to have a policy designed to revitalise our countryside and its life. Not for years, at least the last 50 years, have we had a Government who have considered this their duty.
The first question which hon. Members who represent rural constituencies and who believe in the revivifying of the countryside must ask themselves is this: what justification is there for a Government taking action to reverse the natural trend of depopulation from the countryside? Unless we tackle this question and give a reasoned justification for it, we are not even off the ground. My answer is that we cannot count the social and economic cost of the congestion of our population in the great conurbations. We have only to look at the social life of this great city—children herded together, the constant traffic jams which we have here and which are repeated in other conurbations—and then look at our great open spaces. I am not in a position to analyse this social and economic cost, but I think that it is very great.
There is also the great social and economic cost of allowing great areas of our countryside to become depopulated. Once we have the process of depopulation, we have the great and ever-increasing cost of services. Our rate deficiency grant goes up all the time. This is true. I think, of the constituencies of every hon. Member, save that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy), who has spoken in this debate. It is costing the country a great deal. If this trend continues, it will cost the country a great deal more.
In addition, there is the underemployment of resources in the country areas—the resources already existing which are not utilised. Building resources are often not utilised to the full. In my constituency, we pride ourselves on having very excellent schools, and it is a sad reflection that perhaps the greatest export from my constituency is highly-trained, intelligent children. But even our schools are now under-used. We have schools built since the war which could accommodate many more children. There are hon. Members who have summer cottages in my constituency. They love to go there. It is a beautiful area in which to live. Hundreds of people—even millions of people—living in the large cities of this country would love to live there, but they cannot because there are no jobs available.
I believe passionately that we owe it to our country and to future generations to make sure that our countryside, not only in Mid-Wales but elsewhere, is revivified. I believe that one day we shall have a generation which will curse us for our lack of foresight in allowing this small island to develop in such a way that nearly all the population are living in great conurbations, where life cannot be as pleasant as it is in the countryside.
I have no doubt of the justification of a policy for revitalising the countryside. I have no confidence that this Government have or had any intention of revitalising the countryside nor that any of their predecessors had. I accept that hon. Members of every party representing rural constituencies may think this about the Governments which have been in power over the last half-century. What I think is wrong is that the help which Governments have given has been a kind of passive help. Their approach has been a passive one and not a positive approach. May I illustrate what I mean from my own area of Mid-Wales? As my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North stated, the population of Mid-Wales in 1961 was 17 per cent. less than it was in 1901. As a matter of statistical information, the population of Wales as a whole had risen 34 per cent. during that period, and the population of England and Wales has risen by 42 per cent. Between 1951 and 1961 the rate of depopulation of the five counties of Mid-Wales was an average of 714 per annum. This is an increase in the rate of depopulation before 1951 which was 640 people per annum.
What happened in Mid-Wales? Up to 1957 very little help had been given by any Government. Then one of the county councils proposed the setting up of the Mid-Wales Development Association. The other county councils joined in and that Association was formed, partly financed by the county councils but also with a grant from the Development Commissioners. May I stop for a moment to pay a tribute to those unsung heroes, the Development Commissioners? The Government keep them in some back office, I think somewhere in Whitehall. Were it not for the Development Commissioners giving grants out of the development fund there would have been virtually no industrial development of any kind in my constituency over the last 10 years. I wish hat the Minister would give a little more publicity to their work. I think it is right to say—no doubt the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that over the last 10 years seven factories have been built by the Development Commissioners in the Mid-Wales area and one factory was built by the Labour Government before that, so we have eight in all, and without these our problem would have been very much worse than it is now. They could be used very much more than they are used.
The activity is under an Act passed in 1909 by a Liberal Government and if it was not used before 1950 or 1951 it certainly ought to have been used. I am very grateful to know that the right hon. Gentleman initiated the first post-war use of that Act.
My criticism of this kind of development is that it is always piecemeal. It merely fills in a gap here and there. The Mid-Wales Development Association realised that nothing would be done unless it took the initiative. I pay tribute to the work of its members, and to the co-operation they have had from the Welsh Office. They have been trying to attract industry to the area, in the teeth of competition from development areas with far greater resources. Nevertheless, the whole development has been piecemeal. We have had no positive approach; no saying, by the Government, "Let us really set this area on its feet." That is the weakness throughout.
In spite of the increase in forestry employment, it provides in my constituency only 10 additional jobs per annum, so that there will be another hundred jobs in 10 years. That is chicken-feed compared with the real task, and it does not begin to replace the wastage from agriculture. Nor does the tourist industry help sufficiently there. It is an important adjunct to our economy, but it does not begin to replace what has been lost in the countryside—jobs.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) thought that the first priority is transport, and my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North nodded his head in agreement. I do not agree with them. Transport is very important, but people have left the countryside because they did not have jobs there. The first thing is to provide the jobs, after which the transport will be greatly improved. I do not think that the provision of transport is the very first priority.
The Government could take very much more positive action. Why do they not accept the suggestion put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North to set up key rural development areas—one, say, in Scotland, one in Wales, and a couple in England? Why not tackle the job in that way? The Mid-Wales Development Association has done a great deal of work and knows a great deal about the problems of Mid-Wales, and the Parliamentary Secretary's own Department has had a report from it. When is that Report to be published?
The background information for positive action already exists—why not create a development corporation for the area? It would not need a great deal of resources compared with those needed by other parts of the country. If we had £1 million a year for 10 years we could absolutely transform the picture in Mid-Wales. Would it not be a very good thing for the country as a whole if this very large area in Mid-Wales were transformed in this way?
I do not believe in harking back to the past; what we need is a new attitude. Life in the countryside will be different in the future from what it has been in the past. We cannot expect people to return to some of the remote farms—though I myself love remote farms—to get employment. Potentially, the small country town is much more important to the economy of the area. If the Government are not in favour of new towns in rural areas why do they not set about building up the existing ones?
In my area there are towns like Welsh-pool, with a population of 7,000, and Newtown, with a population of 6,000. The populations of each could be built to 10,000 over 10 years, and there could be brought in the kind of factories we need that employ between 15 and 200 or 300 people. That is the kind of development we need. After all, we are not really a remote area—we are only 60 miles from the Midland conurbation. I should have thought that there was a good deal to be said for that kind of investment from the national point of view.
What is also sadly lacking in the countryside is co-ordination of activity. Several hon. Members have said that one Government Department often seems to be doing something that is diametrically opposed to the policy of another. For example, over the last two years there has been a proposal in my constituency to close the hospital in Llanidloes. It is proposed that the patients should go to Aberystwyth, on the coast, which is 30 miles away. There is no rail service between the two places, though I believe that a bus does run on a Saturday. During inclement weather, such as we had last year, the roads are cut off for weeks, sometimes months, and the road between the two towns leads over Plynlimmon. People in Llanidloes would often be unable to visit their relatives in a hospital at Aberystwyth.
I know that highly-specialised services can be provided only in the larger hospitals, but we, too, need hospitals—maternity hospitals, and hospitals for the less serious cases—in areas where patients can regularly be visited. Therefore, while one Department claims to be trying to build up Llanidloes, get industry to come back, and provide necessary amenities, another Government Department is closing down an essential service.
Nothing can be done to arrest depopulation unless there is a considered plan, administered regionally, and Mid-Wales is an example of where regional administration is necessary. There must be an agency to pump in capital, there must be co-ordination of activities, and we must have in mind the kind of society we wish to see. Surely, in the 'sixties, we can plan ahead. No longer is development a matter of luck, something done haphazardly. We can plan for the kind of community we want, and we should now be planning the kind of Britain we want in the 'seventies 'eighties and 'nineties. Governments, of whatever complexion, that allow this trend of depopulation to continue all over the country while the large industrial conurbations build up, are doing a great disservice to the generations that will follow.
I had intended to deal with agriculture, but as there is no representative present from the Ministry of Agriculture there does not seem much point in my doing so. Nevertheless, perhaps the Minister will be good enough to convey my reflections to his colleagues. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Torrington said in what I considered to be a very able speech. Indeed, there is no Member on the benches opposite with whom I find myself so consistently in agreement, but as the hon. Member is as often as not in disagreement with his party himself, this is not surprising.
He spoke of the importance of co-operation in agriculture, and it must be the great hope of the future that small farmers—and large farmers, too—will increasingly learn to co-operate. It is interesting to note that over the last decade the distributive costs of agricultural produce have so increased that the gap between the price paid to the farmer at the farm gates and the price paid at the shop counter has very greatly widened. One way of getting over that is very efficient co-operating marketing. Countries like Denmark and Holland, with their agricultural disadvantages, or seeming disadvantages, of small farms, have got over those disadvantages by highly-skilled marketing and selling.
I should like the Minister to convey to his colleagues the suggestion that far more grant should be paid to farmers who are forming co-operative groups. I have been responsible for starting a meat marketing group in my constituency. It is a co-operative farming effort, and I am chairman of it—I am therefore disclosing an interest. The producers supply the animals, and we slaughter at a number of small slaughterhouses over Mid-Wales and North Wales, and we also use some Midlands slaughterhouses.
We have now reached the stage when we think that we should build an abattoir and food-processing plant in Mid-Wales, but no resources are available for us to do that. A grant is available for the building of a county or public abattoir, but development nowadays sometimes requires a factory-like abattoir, with food-processing plant, which a farmers' co-operative could easily set up. There should be a grant for that kind of development, because it is from the by-products of such an industry that we can set up so many rural industries.
In my own town of Llanidloes where there was in the last century, and has persisted in this, a very flourishing meat business, a leather factory was set up to take the hides. It now employs over 100 people. During the last war refugees from Germany came there. They had great skill in handbag-making. They were given an attic in the factory and they established a flourishing handbag industry which now employs about 120 and they have a new factory. All that development stems from the native sheep. This is one of the developments ancillary to agriculture which we might have. I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture or the Board of Trade, whichever is the appropriate Department, will consider the availability of grants for that kind of development.
The debate has covered such a vast expanse that one has to be a little selective in the aspect with which one wants to deal. I congratulate the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) on casting his Motion so wide as to give considerable scope for debate on specific issues. I should also like to do, what I am sure all hon. and right hon. Members here would want to do, and that is to express our sadness that at the coming election my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) will not be standing again and that future Parliaments will not have the benefit of his great knowledge which he has always presented in such a charming way to the House. This is a source of personal grief to many hon. Members as well as a source of great regret to the House as a whole.
Any question of the nature we are discussing today boils down to the fact that, whatever the quantum of sums of money available, there must be a number of critical choices as to the priorities, and the fact that these choices are not always explicitly taken does not mean that they are not there in the background all the time. All it means is that if these specific choices are not taken, whatever policy emerges is unlikely to be a consistent policy. Whatever choices face the policy-makers, whether national or local, or individuals who turn their minds to the problem, there are a number of outstanding ones.
In the first category comes the conflict, for instance, between rural beauty on the one hand, and on the other the recreational requirements of the population and the income that flows in locally from some manifestations of recreation. These two are necessarily in contradiction. To have wide open spaces is contradictory to filling those spaces with people. More specifically, there is the conflict between amenity in general and in particular.
A classic case of this was the bitter opposition in some quarters to the erection of a large TV relaying aerial in the middle of Dartmoor. One can understand the sentiments of people who had grounds for objecting to it. But we should compare that with the tremendous amenity brought to people living in remote areas with quite inadequate facilities to get them to centres where other amenities are available. The difference to the farmer, farm-labourer and cottager in a rural area in being able to turn on a TV set in the evenings and have the same facilities as those available in more sophisticated surroundings to my mind must completely outweigh the definite but minor aesthetic blemish of a TV structure on a tor which, anyway, is covered in light cloud or fog most of the time.
Again, it necessarily follows that where industry is brought to an agricultural area there will be greater competition for the labour available in that area. This does not mean that it is undesirable. It means, however, that it produces difficulties for the agricultural employer which were not there before. Therefore, our attitude should not be the negative one of saying, "Let us keep industry away", but the positive one of saying, "Let us attract industry and consider how we can ameliorate the problems which attracting industry necessarily brings"
As a positive suggestion, it was pointed out with considerable force to me by one of my constituents that, although a great deal of money is spent on agricultural colleges and on giving people a far better training than was available a quarter of a century ago, far less money is given towards creating a structure whereby trained people could pick up practical expertise, not necessarily on a farm of their own or as a tenant, but in helping farmers who greatly need trained assistance. This they could do if only for a year or two before moving on to farms of their own. If we could have a specific agricultural employment organisation rather than just the general Ministry of Labour facilities, which are not designed specifically for providing suitable agricultural labour, some of the opposition to the attraction of industry to rural areas might be found no longer to have the basis it once had. I put that forward as a constructive suggestion.
Another basic conflict of priorities, which has arisen before and will continue to arise in future, is the conflict within a given quantum of resources between curing unemployment which exists at a given moment and preventing unemployment arising at some future date. Generally speaking, I am sure that it will be agreed that in many cases it is cheaper to prevent pockets of serious unemployment arising than it is to cure them once they have become manifest, with the rather discouraging aura which surrounds an area that has become notorious as an area of unemployment.
This affects the granting of industrial development certificates. There are those who say that certificates should not be granted unless the total and percentage unemployment in a given area is more than a specified figure. I appreciate that line of thought but I do not agree with it, particularly in circumstances where there is a rapidly expanding school population. That population is not unemployed at the moment, but it is essential to put it into creative and satisfying employment when it comes out of school so that there is not a dreadful hiatus between coming out of school and commencing a career or vocation. If we wait until these young people have come out of school and there is a severe unemployment problem before there is a grant of an industrial development certificate, much of the damage is done and much of the money that could have been saved has been wasted.
It is essential to bear in mind not only the areas which have unemployment but also those which may have unemployment. I confess that to some extent this is a problem which more particularly affects areas where the population is expanding. It is not, therefore, specifically covered by the Motion, but it is the sort of conflict where beggar-my-neighbour tactics can be adopted and where one hon. Member may block development in the constituency of another not because of altruistic reasons but because he would prefer to have the development in his own constituency. A consistent choice of priorities must be made.
Another question which has been touched on already is the problem of the large employer. The reason why a given industry goes to a rural area—for instance. Devon—is often that there are local factors conducive to efficiency in the industry. For instance, in many parts of the West Country there is an abundance of water. Once upon a time this was used for power. It is also used for the washing of materials. This is very suitable for the textile industry and for the paper-making industry. In my constituency over 1,000 people are employed in the paper-making industry because of the large supplies of water available. This carries with it not only the danger of competitive factors altering the suitability of that industry to employ a large number of people. By competitive factors I mean such a thing as the substitution of man-made fibres for natural fibres. Other things, such as alterations in tariff rates, can change the position of an industry from being a profitable one into one which has to lay off a large proportion or the whole of its labour force.
One way of guarding against some but not all of the dangers of such a situation is by a process of vertical integration, by taking more and more of the processes and putting them into a given area so that it is less vulnerable to alterations in costs or the comparative advantages of some of the ancillary processes, part of which are carried out in the locality. This necessarily means that a higher proportion of the local population will have their eggs in the same basket.
I do not see what the alternative is. One cannot with one breath say that one wants to see a healthy industry employing more and more of one's people who need employment and say with the next breath that one does not want it to get any bigger or there will be too many eggs in one basket. For competitive reasons, particularly if an industry has an export trade, it is necessary for it both to expand its size horizontally and also to extend its processes vertically so that it can have a greater control over its costs structure and be less vulnerable to suppliers and subsequent processors.
This question must be faced. The implications of it must be accepted. The advantages of the greater security of a large firm against collapse outweigh in many cases the disadvantages of lack of competition from the point of view of different employers. It is an observable truth that in attracting employment nothing succeeds like success. An area which has one large very healthy employer will tend to attract other employers to it, rather than to deter them from coming there. The fact that Tiverton has one very large factory and subsidiaries has not deterred other industries and firms from wishing to come there. A new brewery bottling plant is going up at the moment. I hope that there will be a number of other new types of industry coming there.
Another conflict which must be resolved in terms of relative advantage are different means of transport. We have read recently that the railways are attempting to secure a much greater proportion of the coal trade to the West Country from sea transport. This is a perfectly legitimate thing for them to attempt. The greater utilisation the railways can get from their rolling stock and lines the better. The greater utilisation they can get out of it the greater the mileage which is likely to be retained economically in the area served.
Against that, it must be remembered that seaborne transport has many advantages. It does not cost anybody a penny to keep up the sea as a medium through which things can be transported. Nobody can claim that our resources for building ships and maintaining them are over-taxed. If more demands are made on our shipbuilding industry, employment will be brought to many areas. Seaborne transport would take off the roads the type of load with which the roads are already particularly congested—that is, very large bulk loads.
Whilst recognising the great advantage that accrues from the railways attracting more trade so that they can get their unit costs down and maintain services which they would not otherwise be able to maintain, we must bear in mind and face the price which necessarily has to be paid for that. Part of that price is the creation of additional difficulties in shipbuilding areas, and even for shipyards in the same area—for instance, in Falmouth or in Plymouth.
Another question which arises on priorities is where one should build. I doubt if there is an hon. Member in the Chamber at the moment who has not, to his own disgust, encountered rather too frequently the attitude of people who are very anxious to have electricity supplies laid on to them, but who, once they have got their electricity supply through, are the first to ring up and complain when there is a minute voltage drop. The attitude—"Pull up the ladder. I have got my supply, so do not connect anybody else up if it means I might have a voltage drop"—is unfortunately fairly prevalent.
This problem must be faced with the limited resources available. They always will be limited for any given type of capital development. There must be a certain amount of give and take between the sections of the community which already enjoy the basic facilities of life and that section which has yet to enjoy them. I believe that it is fair to say to people who want to build new houses in remote areas which do not have the basic services—I do not mean people who inhabit existing houses in areas which have not got the basic services—that it is not altogether right that they should elect to have the advantages attaching to remote areas—there are some advantages in comparative isolation, privacy, and the view—yet expect the rest of the community to bring extremely expensive services to them at far less than the economic cost.
This again is a matter of balance. A factor which must be recognised in the granting of planning applications is that, where a house goes up where there is no sewerage, sooner or later somebody, even if it is not the person who has the house erected for his occupation, will say, "Here is a basic service which I as a ratepayer am entitled to and which somebody else should provide". This is another factor which must be watched and balanced. One way of balancing it would be to say that, when a new house is erected in an area remote from basic services, the person who asks for the services to be connected should pay a higher proportion of the cost of bringing public services to that house than that borne by the occupier of an existing house who wishes to have such services connected. In other words, put a surcharge from the point of view of the provision of basic facilities on a class of planning permission which it could be acknowledged would involve the local authority or the electricity board, say, in a far greater than average cost.
Finally—not "finally" because there are not so many more aspects which could be covered, but "finally" because many more Members wish to make their contributions in the debate—I want to say a few words about agricultural incomes. One cannot isolate the income of any section of the community, because it necessarily finds its way to other sections of the community. Inadequate purchasing power in rural areas is necessarily reflected in a smaller demand for the products of local industry and of urban manufacturing industry.
The huge sums of money, the colossal sums of money—running into well over £500 million a year—spent by the agricultural community on the goods and services by which other members of the community earn their living is a measure of this very significant factor. There is much more harmony between the interests of the agricultural section of the community and what one could call the commodity-manufacturing section of the community than necessarily appears at first sight. It is quite undeniable, if one studies the figures, that over the last 10 years net agricultural incomes have fallen behind the national average very considerably indeed.
This is partially a reflection of the fact that in terms of proportion of the national income there has been a transference from business ownership to wage earning. Farming as a business has not escaped this. Even eliminating that consideration—which is a significant one—there can be no doubt that the profitability of it has fallen behind to such an extent that many of the reasons for taking up agriculture as a profession are reasons not entirely related to farming. They include, for instance, the value of farm land as a capital investment in terms of potential appreciation for building purposes and the fact that it attracts a lower rate of Estate Duty than other forms of investment.
Considerations of this kind should not be those which attract people into this very important industry. I hope very much indeed that this transformation of the emphasis on agricultural policy will mean that this year and in the future we shall be able to restore considerably the net purchasing power of the agricultural community without becoming still deeper involved in intractable problems resulting from gluts of some agricultural produce. That position, incidentally, we have met in terms of eggs. This problem will become much more acute if some plans of a very small group of people with a fantastically large production potential, come about.
Once again I congratulate the hon. Member for Devon, North on his choice of topic and on the width with which he framed his Motion; I commend to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench the proposition that the list of competing priorities of which I endeavoured to remind the House is a list of conflicts which have to be resolved positively. They do not become less important or less urgent because one cares not to have them in mind.
We are all indebted to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) for enabling us to have this comprehensive debate on the problems of the rural areas. About 12 months ago he initiated a debate on the national parks, in which I had the pleasure of taking part. Today he has ventured much further afield. In his wide-ranging speech, he mentioned most of the problems which affect the countryside today. I should like to refer to a number of them.
Having listened to the speeches carefully, it has seemed to me that there are three major questions implicit in the problem of the rural areas today. The first is one to which reference has been made in practically all the speeches delivered so far, namely, how is the depopulation which still continues in so many areas to be abated, halted and possibly reversed? Secondly, how are the amenities and beauties of the countryside to be protected? Thirdly, what new machinery, if any, is required to ensure that the best use is made of land during the crucial years which lie ahead? The question of land use has not been mentioned much in this debate, but it is basic to any general consideration of the rural areas.
The hon. Member for Devon, North referred at the start of his speech to the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. Depopulation and the unplanned growth of the industrial sprawl started then. Depopulation has been going on for a very long time during periods of Conservative Government and during long terms of Liberal Government as well. I think it true to say that depopulation as a national problem has never been tackled urgently and constructively by any Government. We have had distribution of industry legislation, the Local Employment Acts to try to solve the problem of unemployment. We have had green belt and new town legislation to try to deal with the problem of over population, but there have been no comparable Measures to try to deal with depopulation. This probably is because of its negative quality.
As has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members we in Wales have suffered grievously through depopulation. The figures bear eloquent testimony to what the country has suffered. In 1921 the population of London and the South-East was 9,100,000. In 1962 it was 11,149,000, a very considerable increase in 40 years. In the Midlands and the Birmingham conurbation in 1921 it was 3,277,000, and in 1962 it was 4,845,000, another very considerable increase. In Wales in 1921 the population was 2,421,000 and in 1962 it was 2,651,000. Our proportion of the greatly increased population is negligible. The increase of population which has occurred in Wales has occurred in certain industrial centres.
Depopulation in Mid-Wales, particularly, has been acute. The census report of 1961, which I have been studying in the last few hours, contains this comment, which reflects the core of the problem:
Among the counties which have not kept all their natural increase or which have actually suffered a decline in population are Northumberland, Cumberland, Durham, Westmorland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cornwall and all the counties in Wales.
The further we get from London the worse the position becomes. If we can translate these figures into human terms—and most hon. Members who have spoken have made speeches in human terms—all this has meant the break up of communities and a great deal of unhappiness over the years.
As has been stressed by the two hon. Members from the Liberal Party, there is the other side of the coin, an increase in the chaotic housing, traffic and social problems of the London region. The Barlow Committee's Report, over 20 years ago, gave ample warning of all the ills which affect the rural areas at present. Professor Colin Buchanan has given further warning in his two interesting articles in the Observer in recent weeks.
I agree with the hon. Member for Devon, North that the depopulation problem of Mid-Wales, the South-West, the North-West and Scotland should be tackled positively as a matter of urgency by the Government. At present there is no policy, apart from the Development Commissioner policy which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) mentioned. There is no other machinery. The Government's policy in relation to the North-East and Scotland, laudable though much of it may be, has caused me considerable concern because it must mean that priority is being given to the North-East and Scotland; and if priority is being given to these areas, inevitably other areas which suffer from unemployment and depopulation must take second, third and fourth places in the queue.
We have been told in Wales that an inquiry has been undertaken by the economic unit of the Ministry for Welsh Affairs in Cardiff. Wales has been divided into five regions—South Wales, Pembroke, Mid-Wales, North-West Wales and North-East Wales. The first report will be published in 1965. Presumably, at that rate the subsequent reports will appear in 1967, 1969 and perhaps 1971.
The fact is—and the House and the country must face it—that if the hon. Member's Department and the Government are canalising their efforts in the direction of the North-East and Scotland, it becomes increasingly difficult for other areas to induce suitable industries to establish themselves there. It is Government policy—but not a policy which we advocate. Our distribution of industry policy in the post-war Labour Government was very different, because in a very short time, and under very difficult conditions, we succeeded in distributing industry over a wide area of Great Britain and in solving a number of intractable problems which before the war were thought to be insoluble.
The hon. Member for Devon, North made a number of interesting suggestions. The creation of four rural development areas is one which both the Government and the Opposition might consider.
The causes of depopulation and unemployment are the same—the decline of the old traditional industries. The depression in the North-East, for example, is due to the decline of the old traditional industries of shipbuilding and coalmining, and in the rural areas unemployment and depopulation are attributable to the fall in the numbers employed in agriculture and in rural industries and crafts. In North-West Wales it is also due to the decline of the slatequarrying industry.
The number employed in agriculture has fallen from 731,500 in June 1955 to 572,000 in June 1963—a drop of 160,000 in eight years. We know the reasons for this. In the main it has been due to the increased mechanisation of the industry. But this was predictable. The Government have known about it for a long time. The same comment can be made about the North-East and shipbuilding and coalmining. The Government have known about it and could have anticipated it. This is where I think the Government are most vulnerable. They have had over 12 years to counteract the trend, but they have done nothing positive, and after 12 years of Conservative Government depopulation is still a major problem in this country.
Mid-Wales, which was discussed at length by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery, is a classic example of Government inaction. There have been reports, discussions and delegations over the years on depopulation in the mid-Wales counties. There was, for example, the Second Memorandum of the Council for Wales in 1953, followed by the Mid-Wales Investigation Report, followed by a Government White Paper on Rural Wales. But the problem persists.
Last night I read the debate which we had on these reports in the House on 8th December, 1953. Speeches were made by hon. Members for the Welsh rural areas and by Mr. Clement Davies, the predecessor of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery. The debate was wound up by Aneurin Bevan, who said:
We are witnessing the fact that if urban civilisation is not corrected by artificial methods, rural life is destroyed and we get a dangerous unbalance in the community. Consequently, artificial means have to be adopted, special legislative action has to be taken, in order to prevent urban development from sucking all the vitality out of the rural community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1953; Vol. 521, c. 1916.]
We are more than ten years on since Aneurin Bevan uttered those words, and the unbalance in the community is worse today than it was then. It seems to me that as a first step the Government should consider this proposal; that areas which are afflicted by proven, chronic depopulation should be scheduled to receive some measure of assistance under the Local Employment Act. Some formula could be worked out whereby those areas which have lost a percentage—to be decided by the Government—of their population over a period of years should receive some of the assistance which is provided under the Local Employment Act, including
the provision of advance factories and the other provisions of that Act.
We have had a reference to magnet towns and new towns in selected places. We in the Opposition have been and are giving consideration to these ideas, and as part of our policy we have a proposal that there should be a new town in Mid-Wales, either as an addendum to an existing market town or as a new town in a new location.
We also believe that as far as possible industries ancillary to agriculture and forestry should be encouraged to start in these areas of depopulation. I disagree with the hon. Member who said that there was not much future in this idea. I believe that these industries which are ancillary to agriculture, such as canning factories, or to forestry, should be sited in these small localities.
Indeed, I believe that forestry can play an enormously important part in future development. The Fort William pulp mill is a good example of a project providing 2,500 jobs in an area of chronic depopulation. I hope that the House will find it interesting news that many of the great forests of Wales are approaching maturity. From 1965 new timber consumers will be needed in Wales. Next year 4·6 million cubic feet of timber will be available in North Wales. In 1970 the figure will be 5·8 million cubic feet. In 1975 it will be 8·7 million cubic feet. In 1980 there will be 12·5 million cubic feet of new timber. We shall therefore need a vastly increased capacity to deal with this new timber. Forestry in Wales for the first time will be able to support new ancillary industries and to provide permanent jobs in the very areas where there is now chronic depopulation. I should like to know what steps the Government are taking to prepare for those industries. It is no use waiting till the trees are being felled.
I am going to suggest something in support of what the hon. Member is now saying. In fact the situation then will be more serious than he has outlined it, because as the forests are growing up men employed in maintaining them will be falling out of work, and so in one way the unemployment curve will become more serious.
That is perfectly true, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the point.
We in Wales would be angry, and justifiably angry, if this timber were exported for processing. The Government have notice that these forests are approaching maturity. If we can get pulp mills and processing plants in Mid-Wales, it should be obvious to every Member in the House that it will make an enormous difference in the areas where work is most needed.
I wish to turn to another important aspect of rural employment, namely, the contribution which small rural industries, of which there are many thousands in the rural areas throughout Great Britain, can play. In referring to them, I should like pay tribute to the Rural Industries Bureau and the work which it has accomplished over the years by way of encouragement and financial assistance to small industries. I have been deeply impressed by the Bureau's work in my own constituency. I am sure that a study of the work which the Bureau is doing would be a very fruitful one for the Board of Trade.
This is what the chairman of the trustees of the Rural Industries Bureau, Sir Basil Mayhew, said about the work of the Bureau:
It might surprise some that amongst the small producers with whom the Bureau has been in touch and has helped, are manufacturers of dentists' chairs, glass fibre kitchen sinks, scientific instruments, television masts and aerials, surgical appliances for spastics, plastic flooring, lithographic printing machines and many hundreds of other products equally as diverse and unrelated.
What is the purpose of the Bureau? It is defined in paragraph 3 of the Bureau's trust deed:
The purpose for which the Bureau is constituted is to collect and diffuse information as to the rural industries and matters connected therewith with a view to promoting the development of rural industries and to take any steps which in the opinion of the Trustees are necessary or ancillary to that purpose.
Again, it may be of interest to hon. Members that the Bureau keeps records of about 15,000 small firms in England and Wales. I think it may well be that it keeps records of many more by now; that figure I quote is about two years old. In size these firms range from one-man businesses to businesses employing up to 20 skilled journeymen. I
am sure the House would agree that these industries play a vital part in the life of the rural areas.
I want to make this suggestion to the Government. Cannot the Bureau now be asked to conduct a survey of all these small rural industries? This could he done through its local committees and local organisers. The purpose of the survey would be to ascertain whether, if they were given some form of encouragement or some limited financial assistance, those industries could be induced to expand. Even if a small proportion of them were to expand that would mean throughout the countryside a considerable number of new jobs, and if the Bureau wanted a little money to help it to conduct such a survey, then I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that it would be money well spent. The Bureau is at the very core of this problem of work in the countryside, and I should like the Board of Trade to take a great deal more interest in its work and to encourage it to carry out a survey such as I have suggested.
Finally, there is agriculture, the basic industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) specifically pointed to the importance of agriculture, and it would be wrong not to mention it in this debate although it is not an agricultural debate. We all agree, I think, that a prosperous agricultural industry is a vital necessity. It is the foundation upon which everything else must be built in the countryside.
During the last ten years farmers have gone through a period of uncertainty and insecurity. Hon. Members on the back benches opposite must realise this from their meetings with farmers and with farmers' unions. This insecurity has been due to the Government's free market policy, and, latterly, to the uncertainty which surrounded the Common Market negotiations. Farm prices have been forced down, and the gap between farm incomes and those enjoyed by all the rest of the community has widened. This has been stressed in this debate by hon. Members on both sides. These are the facts of agricultural life today.
They tell me that the farmers of this country Lend to vote Conservative.
It is said they vote Conservative. But if the farmers compare Labour's agricultural policy, and the record of the Labour Party based on the 1947 Act, with the policies of the last 12 years, and then vote Tory, then they are not as shrewd as they are reputed to be. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) is pointing out that the wind of change is blowing through the farms of this country—including the shippons of Devon. I hope that the farming community will study the policies and the records of the political parties very carefully.
The policies of the Labour Party are well set out in documents which are available to the hon. Member, and I hope that he, as well as the farmers, will study the policies carefully, because it is the aim of the Labour Party to place agriculture in this country on a secure footing, to enable the farmers to plan ahead with confidence—a thing they have not been able to do for many years—and to enable the farmers to have a share in the national prosperity.
This, too, should be said of the farmers of Britain: they are amongst the most efficient in the world. Their productivity record is excellent, better than the productivity record of many other industries. Our balance of payments position—I say this to hon. Members opposite and to some hon. Members on my own side—would be infinitely worse today if it were not for the contribution made by the farmers.
The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) dealt at length with rural amenities, as did the hon. Member for Devon, North. One must be fair, and on the whole I think, this is a very much happier story. Both political parties can share the credit for the revolution in the countryside in the progress in the provision of amenities, piped water and electricity, for instance. Although as the hon. Member rightly said there are still difficult areas, there has been this revolution, although there is still much to be done. There are still more than 250,000 dwellings without piped water in rural areas. There are still the areas which the hon. Member mentioned—the South-West, South Wales, North Wales and Merseyside—where rural electrification must be accelerated. The position is worse in the areas of depopulation than in others.
We believe that more resources must be devoted to improving amenities in such areas. Water, electricity, housing, education and roads have been mentioned. I agree very much with what has been said about rural schools, for the condition of many of them is appalling. I fully support the statement about the importance of primary schools in our villages. In some cases primary schools are closed for reasons of which we are aware—such as a decline in the number of children attending, the difficulty of forming a class or having one teacher only to teach children of different age groups. But I believe that even more important than retaining the primary schools in such villages is the retention of an infant section when a decision has been taken to close a school. My experience is that what worries parents most of all is small children having to travel considerable distances to school. Most parents Like their children of 4, 5, 6 or 7 to come home for their midday meal.
We have had a number of debates on rural transport, but we are no nearer a solution. I recall speaking at the Dispatch Box about the Jack Committee's Report on rural bus services a considerable time ago. It was an excellent Report; it outlined the problems carefully and made first-class recommendations. But the Government have done nothing about it. The Parliamentary Secretary ought to tell us whether the Government have shelved the Jack Report recommendations permanently or whether something will come of them.
We are on the threshold of large-scale closures of rural railways, which will make certain areas far less attractive to industrialists. How can the Government say that they are anxious that industries shall go to rural areas and at the same time cut rural transport services to the bone? It is paradoxical and does not make sense. When industrialists come to North Wales, one of the first questions they ask is what transport facilities there are in the area.
The Fort William pulp mill proves beyond doubt that railway transport is necessary. What will British Railways do, and what will the Government do, if a pulp mill is opened in Mid-Wales to process the timber which I mentioned after the railway lines have been closed? Will it mean that the pulp mill will not be able to go there or that the railway line will have to be reopened? These are considerations which the Government should have in mind when considering their policy towards the rural areas.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is not in the Chamber at the moment, but I noted in the Western Mail today a report that:
More bus services are to be withdrawn in Montgomeryshire because they are no longer economic … Buses will be taken off the Welshpool-Newtown, the Welshpool-Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury-Four Crosses and Newtown-Adfa routes from March 1.
These routes are to be closed because they are uneconomic. Railway lines are also to be closed because they are uneconomic. If there were a report along the lines of the Beeching Report, on the basis of the same terms of reference, dealing with bus services, how many bus routes would have to be closed because they are uneconomic? Many bus routes in rural areas are as uneconomic as the railways are. The result of the present policy will be that railway lines will be closed because the criterion has now been reduced to that of hardship alone, and bus services as well have been closed.
The Government will convert huge areas of the country into a wilderness without any form of public transport. I remember one of the Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministry of Transport stating in a debate that people without cars must try to cadge lifts from people with cars. Is that the Government's policy? If so, it is a disastrous and bankrupt one. We shall have no distribution of industry at all, and this will accelerate depopulation still further. The Labour Party believes in maintaining adequate road and rail services in the countryside, and our guiding principle will be the needs of those for whom the services are intended.
I agree that everything possible should be done to encourage cultural activity in rural areas by the provision of public libraries and so on. I do not want to see the imposition of urban culture on rural areas, for that would be criminal. But communities should not be deprived of facilities should not be deprived of facilities for recreation and culture just because they are remote.
Finally, there is the whole question of how the land of Britain is to be used in the years that lie ahead. It may be that the present local authority machinery is no longer adequate to the task. Local authorities are not large enough to take the broad view which is often necessary. They often take a parochial and narrow view. In any new structure local authorities would, I think, have a part to play, but it may become necessary soon to plan the use of land at a higher level. Professor Buchanan, to whose article I referred, takes this view. He suggests the creation of a Central Council for Physical Environment. This is worthy of very careful consideration. One thing of which I am certain is that we must consider this aspect of the problem very soon.
This has been, I am sure, a very profitable debate. I hope that some benefit will come from it for the countryside. We have had frequent debates about the countryside, the industries in the countryside and the transport problems of the countryside, but the Government have taken very little note of them. This is extremely frustrating for hon. Members on both sides of the House representing, as they do, the views, hopes and aspirations of their constituents.
People in my area of North Wales do not want to leave there and go to Birmingham or London to work. They wish to stay in their own communities, and why should they not? Hon. Members opposite frequently say, "We do not believe in the direction of labour except in times of great national crisis". But what is it, if not direction of labour when men from Anglesey and Caernarvonshire, having been out of work for five or six months, have to go to the conurbations, leaving their families behind them, in order to find work, thus creating more difficult problems for both areas?
The policy of the Government should be to take work to the people. I do not believe on this facile cry that labour should be mobile. While we are forcing our workers from North Wales we are getting, in return, more and more retired people settling in the area. We are glad to welcome them, but this imbalance tends to create an unsatisfactory community.
Let us have a constructive statement of policy from the Government even in the dying days of this Parliament—perhaps a flash of inspiration from the Parliamentary Secretary. We would be sufficiently broadminded to welcome it even if it were to help hon. Members opposite in their election campaign. At least let us have some constructive suggestions from the Government that will assist the population of the rural areas.
I was about to suggest that it might be convenient to the House if I followed the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes), but there seems some doubt as to whether it would be.
This has been a very wide ranging debate, as becomes a very widely drawn Motion. The House is clearly indebted to the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) for initiating the debate. But to comment in detail on every point which hon. Members have raised, let alone to reply in detail to the Motion, would involve me in speaking for an interminable time. This I shall have to avoid as we have only an hour left and, quite clearly, two other hon. Members want to intervene.
Furthermore, many of the detailed points relate to Departments other than the Board of Trade, although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Sir J. Maitland) reminded us, my right hon. Friend has co-ordinating responsibility for regional development. In these cases, especially where the matter is a local one, it would be better if my right hon. and hon. Friends from the appropriate Departments were to write to the hon. Members concerned about these specific points. None the less, within these limitations, I shall do my best to offer some advice to the House.
The Motion relates to rural areas in general rather than to any particular area. The phrase "rural area" can mean less or more, as one may care to define the term. There are some parts of the country where there can be no doubt about the definition—the High-lands of Scotland, for instance, or the agricultural south-west of Wales. But over so much of Great Britain rural and urban inextricably intermingle.
Put in its extreme form there is the London commuter who lives in Suffolk. He works in a modern city and he demands, and in general obtains, goods and services at home comparable to the standard enjoyed by the city dweller. As he spends at home much of the money he earns in London, he and his commuting colleagues generate a prosperity around them and make an important economic contribution to raising the general standard of services, both public and private, in their rural areas. That is one example of how urban and rural life and conditions intermingle. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) gave further examples from his experience in the Midlands. Hon. Members will have no difficulty in thinking of many other and perhaps subtler shades of this process. So in a relatively small and heavily populated country served by a dense network of modern communications, we must be careful in drawing sharp distinctions between town and country.
The proportion of people living today in what might be called truly rural conditions, the conditions envisaged in the speeches of most hon. Members, is a small part of the total population. I have tried to make some estimate of the numbers involved. There are some 9 million people living in local government districts termed as "rural districts", but many of these rural districts, or parts of them, are not rural in the sense implied by the Motion. We are probably talking about some 5 to 6 million people, that is to say, about 10 per cent. to 12 per cent. of the population. Of course if one brings in all our market towns, it will be more. Whatever the figure is—higher or lower—the people living in rural areas are no less important because they are lesser in numbers than their urban brethren.
The first leg of the Motion is concerned with living conditions in the countryside falling short of those enjoyed in most urban areas. I am sure that hon. Members would agree that the worth of living is something different from the material standard of living. Obviously, there are basic material essentials without which it is difficult for most of us to find real worth in over lives. It is clearly our duty as a Government to do all that we can to ensure that those basic essentials are available to all in this country, even in the remotest areas. Further-more what we should regard as the basic essentials must increase in scale and quality as the general standard of living rises.
Faced with a revolution of rising expectations and with an increasing uniformity of culture and expectation—the Mersey beat reaches even into Blaenau Ffestiniog—it is natural that those in remoter rural areas should find themselves casting envious eyes upon their fellow citizens in the great cities. To them the urban dweller appears to have far greater access to modern living than does the countryman.
Of course the great cities have many cultural, educational, commercial and social advantages over rural areas. They offer, by virtue of their size, a far greater range of choice to the individual. This is especially true in terms of employment. On the other hand, there are many worthwhile things to be done in the country which cannot be done in great cities.
We should remember that there is another side to the great city—a hurried, crowded, harsh, impersonal side. For instance the "rush hour" on the Inner Circle can hardly be described as "gracious living". One can be lonelier in London than ever one can in the country.
This is the cruel side of urban life, which prompted that angry outburst from Shelley:
Hell is a city much like London—
A populous and a smoky city;
There are all sorts of people undone,
And there is little or no fun done,
Small justice shown, and still less pity
It is possibly this other side of city life which accounts for the fact that in so many city-dwellers there is a sublimated countryman yearning for the wide open spaces. Just as we must not adopt too glamorous a view of the attractions of city life so we must not go to the other extreme and sentimentalise about rural life.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that during the last 15 or 20 years 500,000 people have gone away from the rural areas of Scotland because there were no attractions for them?
The hon. Member must not tempt me too far into discussing reasons for movement of population from one part of the country. Having been brought up in the East of Scotland, I can think of reasons other than the possible difficulty of finding employment why one should move from Eastern Scotland to other parts of the world. However, I would rather not go into my childhood memories.
I cannot continue to give way. I was observing that we must not sentimentalise about rural life, especially in Scotland. Milking a dairy herd on a cold winter's morning is not exactly my idea of Arcadian bliss.
I should like to review the progress that has been made in recent years to extend and improve those basic material essentials of modern living in our rural areas. Many of those essentials are listed in the Motion. In comparing the standards of basic services in the country with those in the town, let us recognise quite frankly that the town dwellers have always had a head start; but let us also recognise why this has been so.
In basic services town dwellers have always been better placed because of the economics of concentration of population. Where a lot of people live in one place, it is easier and cheaper to supply them with piped water, a sewerage system, roads, schools, hospitals and all the rest of the services that we have been discussing. This has been true ever since people started to live together in communities and to sacrifice some of their natural amenities for the sake of gaining other and greater advantages, principally man-made ones.
Over recent decades there has been a gradual, but very substantial change in the balance of advantage, a point recognised by the hon. Member for Anglesey. Through national taxation the urban man supports his neighbour, and not just his neighbour in the same street but his neighbour in the countryside as well. If the provision of public services were looked at on a strict cost per head basis, we would find that many of those living on small farms and in remote villages would not be enjoying the services they do today. A similar thought was developed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). But the town dweller's financial contributions, through the Exchequer principally, but by no means entirely, have made possible the provision of water, drainage, and power to countless country dwellers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. Brewis) remarked. The social reasons for this are not in dispute, as the debate has shown.
In support of this thesis, I should like to give the House some examples of the progress which has been made in the provision of better basic services to rural areas. Let us look for a moment at what has been done in rural electrification. Over the past 10 years the number of farms in England and Wales connected to main supplies has risen from rather under 50 per cent. of the national total to 90 per cent. by September, 1963ßžin fact, slightly more than the target the area electricity boards had set themselves. About 1,800,000 other rural premises—97 per cent. of the whole—were also connected by March, 1963. To help farmers take full advantage of these supplies, the Ministry of Agriculture has various schemes providing grants towards the cost of installation.
The provision of electricity is basic to modern production methods and to better living generally. It is now within the reach of country people on a scale that might have seemed unbelievable 10 years ago. I am sure that the House will wish to congratulate the electricity boards on their success in connecting so high a percentage of farms and rural premises. The boards will be continuing with their good work, though the rate is bound to fall off as they reach the more remote farms and houses in their areas.
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the 90 per cent. to which he refers relates exclusively to farms or to rural dwellings generally, because there is a great difference between the two?
I have checked my notes. Taking rural premises as distinct from farms, it is 97 per cent. For farms alone it is 90 per cent. I have rounded the percentage off. It is 89·8 per cent., which I have rounded up to 90 per cent.
I now turn to the subject of water and sewerage. The progress made in bringing piped water and main drainage to rural areas in England and Wales is one of the most marked post-war advances. Whereas 10 years ago less than 80 per cent. of houses in rural districts had piped water, today nearly 90 per cent. have it. The hon. Member for Devon, North complained about not being able to get precise figures. I can assure him that when the 1961 census has been entirely processed those figures will be available. They are done now on a 10-year census. Anyone who has filled up a census form will probably have noticed a question at the bottom about piped water.
On the question of sewerage one can say that one-third of the total capital investment in sewerage and sewage disposal works—nearly £77 million out of a total of £207 million—spent in the past five years has been in rural areas, percentages, I need hardly say, which are completely different from the population percentages concerned.
Nearly one-third of the maintained schools in England and Wales are in what might be called rural areas, but of the 7 million children at maintained schools in England and Wales only about 1 million are in schools in rural districts—which are larger than my definition of truly rural areas. County local education authorities have for a number of years made good progress in the Government drive to raise standards in rural secondary schools, and rural primary schools will be among those which will benefit from the recently announced three-year £200 million school building programme for 1965–68, which allows for the replacement and improvement of old primary schools. As a general observation, one must recognise that, particularly in large and extensive counties, the local education authorities have to decide on their priorities, and the tendency has naturally been to make as their priorities those areas which are most heavily populated. It is certainly true in my own county of Hampshire.
The hospital development programme and the long-term development of local authority health and welfare services, which we all agree are essential to rural areas, are being planned on a regional basis, aimed at improving standards generally. All this planning takes full account of the special needs of the rural areas, and although one recognises how local feeling can be aroused if a cottage hospital is closed and people are asked to go further afield to find a hospital, the aim is that every man, woman or child, whether they live in the town or the country, should obtain the right and best medical attention.
Housing has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. It is up to the rural district councils to decide what is the local need and to formulate house building programmes. What the Government have sought to do is to create the conditions in which local authorities' programmes can be fulfilled. Housing legislation recognises the special difficulties of rural areas, and in various ways provides special help for house building on behalf of the agricultural population. Some small authorities have a notable record in this field, and I must mention here the initiative of the council at Cuckfield which, in the mid-1950s was one of the first authorities to build special grouped flatlets for elderly people. In this connection I might add, in my own County of Hampshire, the New Forest Rural District Council.
The rural district councils, on the whole, have also made especially good use of the improvement grant scheme. In 1963 they made 52,000 grants of all kinds out of a total of 120,000 grants—that is to say, about one-half—whereas the number of dwellings in rural districts is just about one-fifth of the total in England and Wales.
I should also like to pay tribute to the great pains which some of our rural district councils have taken in their housing programmes to use local materials that blend with the landscape and are a real visual asset to the villages concerned. I am thinking particularly of the use of Cotswold stone at North-leach, Chipping Norton and Witney and of slate at North Lonsdale in the Lake District, or Haverfordwest. I am not competent to comment on the rural district councils which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove had in mind, but no doubt if they have not learned what other rural district councils have done, he will draw their attention to what can be done where people are so minded.
I deal next with the question of roads. I realise that in relation to the increasing use of the motor vehicle the need for more and better roads is great, in spite of the substantial increase that we have had in our road programme. But, with respect to hon. Members who have spoken about roads, I believe that it is mainly about trunk roads that they have been speaking, the main inter-urban and inter-regional roads.
The Government recognise the importance of trunk roads to regional development, but I suggest to the House that the standard of our truly rural roads is high compared with those of other countries. In fact, considering the small proportion of their road mileage that is normally congested, the county areas do not do too badly. I recognise the particular problems that one may have in Devon during the holidays, but I am talking of the run-of-the-mill rural roads, the surfaces of which are the envy of Europe and the United States. In the United States one drives along a superb State highway, and then on to a dirt road. The Government are paying substantial sums both generally towards the upkeep of rural roads, and in particular towards rural roads that are congested, but the main problems are trunk roads, and I add, in the context of Buchanan, urban roads, which are outside our discussion today. I assure the hon. Member for Devon, North that my right hon. Friend and I are well aware of the strong views held in the South-West that better trunk roads are the key to the development of that area.
Mention has been made of rail closures, but my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has on a number of occasions made clear to the House the procedure which is followed in these matters and that each passenger closure requires his personal approval.
As there are several hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate I shall not get into a discussion about rural transport and the Jack Report, and I come to what I believe is one of the major factors of this debate, the employment opportunities in rural areas. If we are trying to preserve the rural way of life, we have to make use of indigenous resources, and look to those resources as at least the first source of employment. There farming must take pride of place.
The Motion rightly lays emphasis on the importance of farming policies calculated to maintain an efficient and expanding agricultural industry. It is because successive Governments have attached so much importance to a strong and efficient agricultural industry that they have accepted responsibility for maintaining conditions which afford farmers as a whole the opportunity of earning a reasonable return for their labour, their management, and the capital they have invested. I remind the House that last year the taxpayers' support amounted to £310 million.
But this is not just a policy of maintaining the status quo. In agriculture, as in other fields, efficient production and efficient marketing are the key to prosperity. On production, I believe that we are one of the leading countries in the technical revolution which has taken place in agriculture since the war, and which has involved extensive mechanisation and the application of scientific methods.
There is important work for the agricultural industry to do in marketing, and our proposals for securing greater stability of market prices will give farmers even more scope than at present for increasing their returns by improvements in the quality, presentation, and timing of their output.
The industry is already taking full advantage of the grants available for market research and development. As regards fatstock and meat marketing, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will soon be consulting the interests concerned on the Report of the Verdon Smith Committee. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be interested in the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) about meat co-operatives. The Agriculture and Horticulture Bill now before Parliament contains many provisions designed to assist the improvement of horticultural marketing.
The House will not expect me to discuss the Government's agricultural policy in any closer detail so near to the conclusion of the Annual Price Review, where I feel that my right hon. Friend will be in a better position to expound this policy. I will certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the interesting proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) about co-operation.
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) pointed out, forestry is another source of rural employment and in upland areas in many cases a valuable new source of employment. It occupies about nine workers per 1,000 acres compared with less than one worker per 1,000 acres in hill sheep farming and about five workers in mixed stock rearing. It also leads to increased and varied employment opportunities in auxiliary occupations such as saw-milling, road haulage, chipboard manufacture and other wood using industries.
The creation of growing communities engaged on forestry work, justifying the provision of all the basic services, has been achieved in many areas where agriculture is in decline by means of Forestry Commission planting. Moreover, this activity holds further prospects for an area in that, as the crop approaches full growth, outlets will be needed for the timber in the shape of large-scale industrial undertakings. I was glad that the hon. Member for Anglesey devoted a part of his speech to this theme and, as he reminded the House, the Fort William Pulp and Paper Mills are an example of this; a project well supported by the Government.
One of the characteristics of a modernised agriculture is that like other sorts of modernised industry fewer men produce more output. This has inevitably meant some changes in the pattern of agricultural employment and a steady movement of farm workers away from the land. But, at the same time, the agricultural industry in its wide sense has been expanding its employment opportunities, although principally not in the rural areas themselves. I am thinking of the vast expansions in the manufacture of agricultural machinery and fertilisers, of the increasingly industrialised handling of agricultural products at packing stations or at canning or deep-freeze factories on the spot—but the latter will, we hope, be located in rural districts.
A number of hon. Members have referred to depopulation and the need for more industrial projects to be located in rural areas so as to provide more and varied employment opportunities. I do not want to get involved in a controversy over whether depopulation is necessarily a social evil or how far it can or ought to be prevented by the Government. It is a highly emotive subject. It can only be discussed meaningfully in the particular, because the movement of population may be caused by many different factors. It is a little dangerous to generalise about it.
In a virile, expanding and changing society like modern Britain there is bound to be a continuous movement of people in all directions between one part of the country and another. What matters nationally is the overall effect of such personal moves. Furthermore, one of the basic freedoms is the freedom to move somewhere else, as well as the freedom to stay where one is. It is the Government's aim, by encouraging the broader spread of increasing prosperity over the whole Kingdom, to make it more possible for the individual to choose to stay or to go as he wishes without being driven to do either by force of economic circumstances.
Equally, I am sure that the hon. Member for Devon, North recognises that as employment becomes more specialised, particularly in the higher spheres, scientific and similar establishments must inevitably become increasingly concentrated in basic units, so that, if one wishes to pursue a certain career, one may need to move. In other words, if one wishes to become a nuclear physicist one cannot expect necessarily to be employed in one's home town, for one will not find a nuclear laboratory or whatever the case might be just around the corner. As one reaches higher degrees of specialised training and education it becomes harder, even conceptually, to think of providing local employment opportunities in spheres which must be thought of nationally, in some cases internationally.
We can immediately identify regions where there are special problems, not only of migration but of current unemployment, declining industries and so on, and where special Government action is necessary. I have in mind particularly Central Scotland and the North East, for which special programmes are being undertaken by the Government. As the House knows, in steering new industrial projects priority has been given to those areas with high actual unemployment; the development districts.
Included in some of the development districts are rural areas and, as such, they are eligible for all the assistance under the various Acts. As has been said, migration has not been a factor that has been taken into account in the normal scheduling of a development district, but it has been taken into account in the plans for Central Scotland and the North East. In these two regions the Government believe that the effects of this increased public investment at the key points, the growth places in Central Scotland and in the North East, will spread out to affect the rural hinterlands also, bringing a solid and lasting prosperity to the region as a whole.
We believe that it is at the regions as a whole that we must look, with waves of growth radiating out from the urban areas to back steady—and wherever possible indigenous and sustained—development in rural areas. In this way we aim to provide a wider framework of prosperity geographically. This is what the Government are doing.
Where are other regional studies to be made? First, a study has been made of the South East as a whole—that is, the wide area to the east of a line from the Wash to Dorset, including a number of rural areas, but all dominated by London. Publication of this study is not far off. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has told the House, further studies of other parts of Scotland are in hand—the Borders and the Highlands—and the Scottish Development Group is embarking on an examination of the north-east and south-west of Scotland.
A study for Wales is well in hand, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Welsh Affairs told the Welsh Grand Committee a few weeks ago. Studies of the north-west of England and of the West Midlands are being undertaken and they will cover such matters as population, employment, land use and communications. My right hon. Friend is considering representations from the South West to the effect that they should have a similar study.
These studies will enable the right decisions to be reached about the contributions that each region can make to national prosperity, on the one hand, and how, on the other, national resources should be deployed to maintain the character of the individual regions and the more even improvement over the country as a whole of the general quality of life in all its aspects.
The needs of small market towns have been raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle. A special stress has been laid on the need for more light industry to maintain and to stimulate prosperity and opportunity, not only in the market town itself but over the surrounding countryside as well. I am sympathetic to this argument, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but I must remind the House that the Board of Trade's first responsibility in actually "steering" industry must be towards development districts. But where a firm applies for an industrial development certificate in a place of the kind mentioned, and where it clearly cannot be expected to move to a development district, its case is sympathetically considered in the light of the local circumstances. Indeed, I can think of very few cases where a suitable firm wishing to set up in a rural area or in a market town has had its application refused.
It might be helpful to the House, in order to illustrate what I mean, to quote some figures from the South-West of England. I include in this the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Between 1st April, 1960, and 31st December, 1963, industrial development certificates had been issued for 299 different projects, covering factory area of well over 6 million sq. ft. and providing employment for nearly 14,000 people. The number of industrial development certificates refused in that period was one at Plymouth, one at Tiverton, and two in Weymouth. That shows that, if the project is reasonable, there is no reason to suppose that we shall not be able to give permission for the development.
What we cannot do is to give a blanket permission, as otherwise we might, for a project that really ought to go to a development district. The House has agreed with the general proposition that the development districts have first priority. Market towns and rural districts can get a second priority. What we cannot do, and there have been cases brought to our attention, is to extend the benefits of the Local Employment Acts to market towns or rural areas unless they are in development districts or within travel-to-work distance of them. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle that I shall discuss his detailed proposals with my right hon. Friend.
Then there is the Development Commission, which plays a valuable part, as its name implies, in developing the rural areas. This part of its work is in two broad fields—the social and the economic. As regards the former, the help and finance it gives to such bodies as rural community councils and the National Federation of Women's Institutes is a very real contribution to country people. In the economic field, the help, advice, grants and loans it makes to rural craftsmen and rural industry are of great value in helping the small country craftsman to adapt himself to modern conditions.
Another source of help to rural industries is the marketing and co-operative schemes sponsored by the Commission, and the Lewis Crofters' and Outer Isles Crofters' schemes are instances of this sort of thing. There are also the factories the Commission has financed in Mid-Wales—six completed and handed over to date, with another being built at Aberystwyth. I join the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery in his tribute to the Commissioners.
I am conscious that I have detained the House a little too long, but this is an omnibus subject and I felt that it would be helpful at least to try to answer some of the very important issues that hon. Members have raised. We are living in a rapidly changing world. The countryside is as much involved as the great city. There are those who would try to keep the modern world away from our farms and villages, and to preserve the old world, but this is to reject all the lessons of experience. We cannot, and we must not do that. What we must do is to bring in the best of the new—the amenities of life that are increasingly the amenities of all advanced societies. But we must, at the same time, maintain what is best in British rural life. I can assure the House that these are essential aims of Her Majesty's Government, because we truly believe in one nation.
All who have listened to the Parliamentary Secretary must be rather disappointed that he has given so little hope to the rural areas—those of Scotland, at least. Before dealing with some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman, I want to compliment the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) for raising this rather important subject.
As I listened to the hon. Member I was struck by his contention that it was a very good thing indeed that our electricity undertakings should have been nationalised; and by his view that had that event taken place somewhat sooner, many of the problems now confronting our rural areas would not exist, because they would have been solved before the present Government's inactivity affected them. As it is, we find the Secretary of State for Scotland even now holding up great hydro-electric developments in Scotland by his doubts, and by the inquiries he is instituting into whether or not they are necessary, when the great mass of our people are in favour of further development of hydro-electric schemes.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that a sharp line should not be drawn between country and town, but unfortunately for country dwellers the line has already been drawn quite precisely under the Local Employment Act. Generally speaking, the benefits under that Act are going to the populous areas. The vast hinterland in which the rural populations dwell is left to a large extent isolated.
West Stirlingshire, for example, is a fairly rural area where during the last five years 13 industries have gone out of existence. They employed a considerable number of people. One of the great virtues of a rural industry in a small town or village is that people begin to have a pride in it. They believe that it is a part of their life and being. Generally speaking, they give of their best to whatever product that industry is manufacturing. Unfortunately, owing to certain circumstances outside their control, many of these industries are closing down. In my own village of Banton, a mill run by J. & P. Coates of Paisley employed at one time about 400 girls. It stopped manufacturing six months ago and a factory was opened instead in England to employ approximately the same number.
This kind of thing occurs all over Scotland. Why should this be so? There must be an answer. My considered opinion, for what it is worth, is that the answer lies in the fact that the whole economic well-being of Scotland is entirely different from that of England. Now that we have ceased to depend upon heavy industries, such as coalmining and shipbuilding, it is necessary to consider whether it is possible to have a proper natural development of rural industries in Scotland without having a fiscal policy for the whole of Scotland different from that which applies in England.
Many hon. Members may think that this is far-fetched, but it is not when one considers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made certain fiscal concessions in his last Budget to industry in areas which are being developed under the Local Employment Act. The time is opportune for giving serious consideraton to fiscal policy in Scotland so as to give a greater incentive in industry being located throughout the length and breadth of Scotland rather than in specific areas designated under that Act.
Another aspect of this matter causes me great concern. We have heard in debates, and only yesterday in Questions addressed to the Prime Minister, about the railway closures suggested by Dr. Beeching. I have no fault to find with Dr. Beeching in the carrying out of his remit. He was asked to do a certain job of work from the business point of view. He did it well from that point of view, but the closure of railways in Scotland is of greater moment than would appear from purely financial and business considerations. The whole question must be examined from a different angle. The web of railways covering the whole of our land, going into small towns and villages in every part of the country, is a great national asset. It would be wrong to put Dr. Beeching's proposals into operation and start breaking up that great national asset before considering the possibility of putting the railways on a different financial footing.
Putting the railways on a different financial footing implies taking political decisions. Political decisions must be made if we are to rejuvenate not only Scotland's railway system but also Scotland's rural industry. We must put Scottish railways on the same basis as the postal service, for freight alone, leaving aside passenger traffic. Let passengers pay the fares that are expected of them. However, I see no reason why we should not put the railway system in Scotland on the same basis as the postal services, keeping the charges down to the minimum that can be levied and permitting people to send goods from the most remote parts of the land right to the borders of England at a very reduced freight charge.
This would go a long way towards revitalising many small industries in rural areas. It would help the fishing industry to a great extent. It would also help agriculture. It would help others who are considering starting new industries in remote parts of the Highlands. They would know that they would be on the same competitive basis as other people or industries throughout our land.
This is a matter of the utmost importance. It is a matter which must be seized upon as a political question. It deserves a political answer from the Government. I do not wish to belabour the matter to a great extent, but intermingled with it we must do something more to bring about a better outlook from our industries. Over the years I have seen many of our best scientists and technicians go from our native land to other places where they can get better jobs. I see no reason why we should not have a scientific development association based upon the universities of Scotland, with the various industries in Scotland and the trade union organisation co-operating. I see no reason why we should not establish some such body so as to give free advice to small industries in whatever part of the country they might be. The best scientific knowledge and brains could help them develop new techniques and new methods of approach to the great problems confronting them.
This, run in conjunction with an encyclopaedia of the needs of world trade and commerce, is absolutely essential if we are to get proper development in the rural parts of Scotland. We must be able to give to small people trying to start small businesses some idea where their exports can go and some idea about the possibilities of trade with other countries. It is the Government's responsibility in this day and age to be the spearhead of an attack upon world trade and commerce.
I deplore the fact that in the embassies I have visited in the various lands I have had the privilege and pleasure to travel in I have never met a trade attaché with a practical knowledge and experience of my native land. This is a terrible crime. The people who serve us abroad, whose main purpose is to try to build up trade for this country, have not the basic knowledge. Some of them have never even been in Scotland. How can they represent the trade and commerce of our country? That question needs looking at on a broader basis.
I regret very much that the time at my disposal makes it necessary for me to limit my remarks. There is a great possibility for a new impetus in the development of trade and commerce. The Minister spoke of agriculture, but he was unable to give any indication of what has been done in the new Price Review. There is no reason why he should not put forward some ideas, however. He knows that the winter keep scheme has caused great dismay in the farming community.
This Motion refers to the farming community in rural areas, and we are concerned about those people. Most of the farmers in Scotland are up in arms about this scheme. They are not against its principles, but they protest about the way in which they are put into the A, B and C categories. It is wrong to have these three categories, because being in category A gives no advantage to a farmer. He can get similar grants for ploughing and other things outside the scheme.
If the Government were sincere in their desire to help rural areas and hill farmers of Scotland, they would divide the winter keep scheme into two categories and allow all the farmers who are now in the A category to go into the B category. That would give a degree of satisfaction which would help to boost the morale of agricultural communities in the Highlands and remoter parts of Scotland. It should be made much easier for some of the small milk producers to come within the ambit of the scheme.
There are many things I should like to say, but I shall conclude now because I notice that another hon. Member wishes to take part in the debate. I regret that the debate has gone on for so long because some hon. Members have taken three-quarters of an hour or almost an hour to make their speeches. They should have regard to a Motion which is on the Order Paper suggesting that hon. Members should endeavour to limit the duration of their speeches to about 20 minutes.
The aspect of rural problems to which I wanted to draw attention in this debate is that in which areas are designated within a national park. Much of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is in my constituency. Some people there are beginning to have doubts about whether a national park is an advantage and whether it does not itself contribute to depopulation and stagnation.
The designation of these areas was a wise and far-sighted act of this House for the protection of the countryside in general. I have the privilege of living in a delightful village in my constituency in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. I am only too well aware of the need to preserve its beauties and amenities, but the present cumbersome arrangement of administering national parks leads to a great deal of frustration and delay. What is wanted is a speeding up of the processes where applications require planning permission.
A constituent has written to me on this subject as follows:
At present all applications for the licence to build new premises or alter and improve old ones must be referred to the Parks Committees for final decision. In the West Riding these are all inspected by the Divisional Planning Officer at Skipton and long and entirely unnecessary delay is often caused. I am aware of one case which took two years to reach decision. It may be that the terms of reference make some attempt to protect the public against this delay, but in reality this is inoperative.
This is a typical example of the frustration which occurs. I know of one case in which a small rural industry wished to expand its premises. After
two years of delays and frustrations with the various committees and planning offices which it had to go through, it abandoned its project, and the business went elsewhere. Not only do we have endless delays but they often end with a final refusal to grant the necessary permission.
This applies not only to industrial development and buildings but also to such a simple matter as a request by a villager to put a covered porch on the front of the house to protect him from the elements when the front door leads directly into the living room. He finds that he is not allowed to do this.
The committees in question may decide to visit the site. My constituent writes:
In the event that it becomes necessary for the committee to inspect a site, then the party should be severely restricted from the absurd cavalcade which appears at present, all drawing detention allowance and often mileage allowance from council funds.
Many speakers have referred to the transport problems in rural areas. Where licences to operate buses are given or renewed, I should like the traffic commissioners to insist that the services are co-ordinated with the times of the railway passenger trains. We say that our trains are not used as much as they should be used, but often the bus from a remote rural area arrives just as the train has left or without sufficient time for the traveling public to link up with the train.
Another problem with which we are confronted in rural areas arises from the enormous increase in road traffic. At the moment there are 7½ million cars on the roads. In 1965 it will be 8½ million. In 1970 it will be 12 million motor cars. In the Dales areas, which are adjacent to prosperous industrial towns, this causes a special problem. People from the towns like to spend their week-ends motoring in the Dales. The provision of car parks has become extremely important. The cost of these has to be found as to 75 per cent. by Government grant and 25 per cent. from the local rates, and we complain locally that local ratepayers should not be called upon to make any contributions for a facility which will be used only by people who are not dwelling in the area.
That this House, concerned that living conditions in the countryside fall short of those enjoyed in most urban areas and believing that the prosperity of agriculture and the development of rural areas are essential, calls for farming policies calculated to maintain an efficient and expanding agricultural industry and for the formulation of regional plans designed particularly to achieve in rural areas better communications by road, rail and air, increased provision of electricity, water and drainage, adequate programmes for schools, hospitals and homes, and increased and varied employment opportunities to prevent rural depopulation.