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 William Baxter Mr William Baxter , West Stirlingshire 12:00 am, 7th February 1964

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.