Development in Rural Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th February 1964.

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Photo of Mr Percy Browne Mr Percy Browne , Torrington 12:00 am, 7th February 1964

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.

Next, electricity.