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 Sir David Price Sir David Price , Eastleigh 12:00 am, 7th February 1964

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.