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 James Hoy Mr James Hoy , Edinburgh Leith 12:00 am, 7th February 1964

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.