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 Cledwyn Hughes Mr Cledwyn Hughes , Anglesey 12:00 am, 7th February 1964

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.