Rural Communities in Wales

Oral Answers to Questions — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 4th June 1985.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd 4:01 pm, 4th June 1985

I beg to move, That this House, noting with alarm the Government's complacency in the face of deteriorating economic and social conditions in rural communities in Wales, urges the Government to change to policies which by improving transport and other services and employment opportunities will reverse the decline of those communities.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

Even in a week when a great deal of our attention has been focused on the malaise that affects urban communities, it is right that we should consider this afternoon the problems of rural communities in Britain,, in particular those in Wales. It is necessary to state, so that Conservative Members do not get the wrong idea, what the motion does not say. It does not say that rural depopulation and decline started with the election of a Conservative Government in 1979. Since members of the Welsh Grand Committee know that the Secretary of State's political memory goes back only to 1976, let me assure him that we do not say that it started then, either. It predates 1976.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I think that the hon. Gentleman ought to refrain from commenting until he has heard a little more.

Photo of Mr David Harris Mr David Harris , St Ives

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the hon. Gentleman has mentioned what the motion does not say, may I have your ruling on whether its true meaning ought to have been put before the House? May I also ask the hon. Gentleman to explain why the words "Brecon and Radnorshire" are not included in the motion?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) has been on his feet for only two minutes I took his opening remarks to be a preamble before reaching what the motion actually says.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

That is absolutely right, Mr. Speaker. There is no more coincidence regarding Brecon and Radnorshire in the motion that is being moved by the Opposition than there is in the announcement this morning by the Welsh office that Brecon and Radnor have been selected for a new experiment in education affecting rural Wales.

If I may complete the point that I was making before the intervention of the hon. Member for St Ives (Mr. Harris), for many years there has been a history of shortage of opportunity which has led to the ablest and the most ambitious leaving rural Wales. There have been fewer facilities for people in rural Wales. That much we must accept. What is completely new in the situation is the acceleration of this decline after 1979. So far from the Government's policies and priorities having tried to arrest that decline, they have contributed to it. The Government's approach is wrong. Their complacent attitude is wrong. Their policy and their attitudes must be changed.

I can understand why Thatcherites ask whether it is right for any community, whether rural or otherwise, to be artificially preserved. We say unequivocally that it is right for such communities to be preserved. Thatcherites should accept, as we do, that in so far as rural communities have been maintained since the Second World War this has been done by means of far-sighted public expenditure on health, education, transport amd employment. Nobody will deny that since the war British agriculture, the lynch pin of the rural economy, has been enabled to flourish by the expenditure of public money.

We must assess, if we can, the needs and aspirations of rural communities in Wales in order to reshape policies and create conditions in which it will be possible for everybody to remain in those communities throughout their lives. The lack of one or more of the basic facilities is swelling the exodus and undermining the viability of rural areas. The lack of local employment is the most important factor in driving young people away from rural communities at an alarming rate. For the want of convenient education, families with young children are being forced to choose between moving and subjecting their children, from the most tender age, to sizable daily journeys to and from school.

Between January 1979 and January 1984, 41 primary schools were closed in the four most rural counties of Wales. Closures in Powis meant a reduction of over 7·5 per cent. To social isolation at home for those living in remote homes is added the isolation of children who are unable to play a full part in the social life of their schools, because their lives are dominated by the school bus timetable. They have to go home on the only available public transport.

Many of the schools were built before 1903. Over a quarter of the schools in Powys are in that category. Over 40 per cent. of the schools in Dyfed were also built before 1903. Those are the schools which Her Majesty's Inspectorate described in its recent report as "crumbling away". That was the headline which was to be seen in the Western Mail during the Whitsun recess.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley , Caernarfon

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the effects of sparsity of population are aggravated by the rate support grant formula which does not adequately recognise that sparsity and has led to chronic problems in areas such as Powys?

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

It is a cyclical problem. Because schools cannot be maintained parents are faced with the agonising choice of either moving or allowing their children to make long journeys to and from school. For the want of decent employment people move out of rural communities. This historic movement makes the unemployment figures seem better than they are in reality. Even though depopulation and the drift away from country areas masks unemployment, the unemployment rate is 17·3 per cent. in Dyfed, 18 per cent. in Clwyd, 18·2 per cent. in Gwynedd and 13·3 per cent. in Powys.

If people are lucky enough to find local work, the choice of jobs is limited and the rate of pay is much lower than the average for Great Britain. In 1983, gross average earnings in rural Wales were only 88·2 per cent. of the gross average earnings in Great Britain as a whole. The gap had widened by 2.5 per cent. in the two years between 1981–83, showing a widening disparity between employment in the rural and urban communities. More up-to-date figures will show a further widening. That condemns many rural youngsters to unambitious, underpaid jobs and for the ambitious rural youngsters, even in these times of institutionalised mass unemployment, there is no freedom of choice in employment.

There are over 50,000 employed or self-employed in Welsh agriculture. Of these, over a third are in Dyfed, 18·5 per cent. in Powys and over 14 per cent. in both Clwyd and Gwynedd. Apart from its pivotal position in the rural community, agriculture is important as a source of livelihood. Everyone knows that the next decade will bring monumental changes in agriculture. The insupportability of the increasing commodity surpluses, which is now coming to crisis point, concern about the natural environment and questions about diet and health are all helping to bring about this change. Those engaged in agriculture are all anxious to begin discussing how to modify the current agriculture industry to effect these changes with the minimum dislocation.

People engaged in agriculture are still reeling from the fiasco of the unprepared imposition of the milk quota scheme, which brought ruin to some, hardship to many, and uncertainty to everybody. In scrabbling around to try to repair the blunders made by the milk scheme, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has fallen behind by almost six months in its payment of grants and allowances, and caused further hardship to the farming community in Wales.

The shambles demonstrates that there is almost a complete lack of confidence in the Government, for even in the midst of all this crisis, they are hesitant and unwilling to show any leadership. Doubts about the future will be avoided only if the Government issue a White Paper on the future of agriculture, and that is what the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is avoiding with much more energy than he devotes to defending our interests in Brussels.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Clwyd North West

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will favour the House with his solutions and suggestions for dealing with the problem of persistent surpluses of dairy products, and that he will not run off into suggestions that every country in the EEC should reduce its output, but not the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I realise that a campaign of intense rehabilitation is being mounted by the hon. Gentleman to try to work his passage back into the good graces of his Front Bench. We all know how he wore the penitent white sheet in the last Welsh Grand Committee because he was pressed to do so. I said that the structural production of surpluses is insupportable. To anybody who was listening to me, that would have meant that I do not believe that they can continue. At the moment, we are facing the problem of cereal surpluses. The hon. Gentleman has said, and I agree, that if other measures can be taken, we should try to avoid artificial restrictions such as quotas. However, if necessary, I make it clear that some restriction that will cut the amount of unwanted cereals being harvested and stored should be taken.

Photo of Mr Keith Raffan Mr Keith Raffan , Delyn

The hon. Gentleman is not answering about milk.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

The hon. Gentleman is not writing knocking copy for the Daily Telegraph but is taking part in a debate, so perhaps he will restrain himself for a little while.

There must be measures to restrict output. If price cutting can do so, by all means let that be so, although the present negotiations are unhappy. I criticise the milk quota scheme not because of quotas but because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food went off one weekend saying that he would never accept quotas and came back the following Monday at the head of a quota scheme. There was no time to prepare for it, there had been inadequate preparation in the Ministry, it had not been anticipated and it brought unprecedented disaster to many people who made the mistake of taking the Minister at his word.

I have no doubt that the Government's reluctance is being masked by their Back Benchers. However, a White Paper on the future of agriculture in the next decade is desperately needed not because it will be a solution to all the problems but because a number of hard-pressed people in agriculture are pondering their future. Such a White Paper would be a welcome sign of what, if any, the Government's thinking on this matter is.

Health provision in rural areas is weak and distant. In many of the rural areas, there are some of the worst health problems. I again refer to perinatal mortality, in which Powys has the highest sub-regional rate in the United Kingdom. Despite that, many villages are without any surgery, hospital provision is being cut, whether by the closure of a whole hospital as with the geriatric hospital in Brecon or by the reduction in the number of beds, as with the 90 beds in the three hospitals serving the East Dyfed health district. Casualty and emergency treatment causes great problems for the inhabitants, in part because three of the four Welsh health authorities with rural areas consider themselves to be under-funded in hospital provision. In particular, in sparsely populated rural areas, this is inhibiting the development of community health service for the inhabitants.

Between 1980 and 1982, one in eight of the chemists, shops in Wales closed, and rural areas suffered far more than their fair share of that. Other measures necessary to support rural life, such as local shops and post offices, are declining. To make life tolerable, transport is needed for access to all facilities. Car ownership is high in Wales and is highest in Powys because of necessity, but not everyone can afford a car or is able to drive one. The poor, mothers with young children, the elderly and the infirm depend upon a public transport system that even now is inadequate. That is why I am alarmed by the Transport Bill, which will add to that problem. Its ban on cross-subsidies will stop the off-peak services that now run, because they will no longer be able to use commuter services to subsidise daytime services.

The privatisation that threatens the three largest bus companies, which now have reported losses, according to the Western Mail of 16 May, of £4·25 million, will cause even more severe cuts. That is bound to make the inhabitants of rural Wales feel as if they were marooned on a desert island. I beg the Government, for the sake of the health of Welsh rural communities, to rethink their policies on the Transport Bill.

Photo of Mr Keith Best Mr Keith Best , Ynys Môn

Is it right that transport in rural areas should be subsidised by taxpayers and the ratepayers in the urban areas, in which case what message does the hon. Gentleman have for them, or is it right that rural transport services should be subsidised by the Government?

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I thought that the Government's revenue came from taxpayers, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman is privy to information that I do not have. I have never been one to tell my urban electorate that the highest aim of government is higher take-home pay and lower taxes. I have always said that social public expenditure is necessary to preserve a healthy state of society in Britain. If that means the use by the population, through government, of subsidies for transport in rural areas, I am willing to stand by that and to advocate it. I hope that the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) is as willing to say the same.

It is possible at present to see the impact of existing conditions on the communities of which we speak. Such communities are not only collections of people who happen to be living in an area at any given time. They also embody the culture and the cultural values of those societies. If one changes the composition of those communities or if, by indifference, one allows the composition of those communities to change, one is changing not only the very nature of the communities but the culture itself.

The latest population projections for rural Wales are that deaths will exceed births in those areas for the rest of the century. It is anticipated that there will be a rise in population — indeed, the Government's amendment to the Opposition motion speaks of a rising population. But where will this rise in population come from? It will come from outsiders moving into the area. In Dyfed, for example, inward migration may be as high as 2 per cent. per year.

Unless the Government shed their complacency and stop believing that the very existence of public services is a challenge to their virility, our country villages and small towns will be transformed into dormitory areas for the affluent young who work some distance away and retirement havens for the affluent elderly. Unless local employment and local services exist, one will abandon an all-age population structure in much of rural Wales.

Let me give some examples in support of that. In Wales, the proportion of retired to those at work is 31 to 100, but in Gwynedd at present it is 38 to 100, in Powys it is 35 to 100, and in Clwyd and Dyfed it is 34 to 100. All the rural communities have more retired people to working population than the Welsh average. That imbalance will worsen unless the Government stop destroying healthy communities for the many in favour of healthy bank balances for the few.

We must devote more public resources to increase opportunities locally of education, jobs, health and shopping. We must increase transport provision and adopt imaginative ideas, such as the social car plan, that will enable an immobile population to get to necessary services.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Vale of Glamorgan

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many Welsh people who have worked all their lives in other parts of the United Kingdom have planned to retire in parts of Wales. I presume that the hon. Gentleman does not object to that.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

Of course I do not object. However, I do object if the burden of retired people in any area so unbalances the structure of the population that it produces an unhealthy rather than a healthy society. I object if that happens because a Government, through indifference, force away the young people, particularly young people with families, because there are no jobs or schools for them locally, and there are no surgeries and no health provision. If the Government provide all those services and allow the choice to be a completely free one, then I agree—let people come to enjoy the beauties of Wales in retirement. But, for heaven's sake, let us not drive one segment of the population out through benign neglect and then pretend that we are being hard if we draw attention to the fact that an abnormal number of retired people are coming into the area. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn will know that the problem of an imbalance of elderly people in an area imposes a great strain on hospital and medical services which is insupportable in view of the present provision of such services in rural Wales.

Above all, the Government must be seen to be active in shaping the future of rural Wales rather than appearing, as they do at present, as rather bored spectators of inexorable decline.

On 24 May 1985 there was a feature on the Secretary of State by the political correspondent of theWestern Mail in which the following paragraph appeared:

Mr. Edwards is allowed his limited freedom of action in the Principality—to subvert Thatcherite policies if necessary—as the reward for unswerving loyalty to the leader on the great national issues of the day. We have to know now whether that estimate of his powers is true. If it is not, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will hasten to tell us, if only to avoid disappointment, but if it is true, then it is an opportunity and a challenge. By ignoring Thatcherite policies, the Welsh Office can start to strengthen rural Wales, giving us a vision of the future rather less hellish than the one we currently see. Alternatively, the right hon. Gentleman can choose not to exercise this power and, by his inertia, increase the spiral of decline in rural Wales.

All those who value Wales as a living organism, as a cultural heritage and as a trust to be passed on to future generations must call upon the right hon. Gentleman in the terms of the motion to wipe the sleep from his eyes and begin to lead the fight back.

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth 4:25 pm, 4th June 1985

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: 'recognises the difficulties faced by the farming industry and by rural communities in a period of change, but welcomes the reversal of the long period of depopulation in much of rural Wales, and supports the continued efforts of the Government to improve the services provided and to develop employment opportunities in the countryside.'. Our debate on rural communities in Wales today will lack the contribution from Tom Hooson that we would have had in different circumstances. As I think all hon. Members will agree, he was a great friend and defender of the rural areas of Wales, and he will be sorely missed.

Having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), I am sure that Tom Hooson would have regretted as much as I do the terms of the motion in the name of the Opposition. The terms are vague—as was the speech of the hon. Gentleman—ill-defined and do nothing to recognise the strengths of rural areas in Wales and the considerable developments there in recent years.

On the other hand, our policies are clear and effective. We must of course — there will be agreement on this point—continue to guard against depopulation. The hon. Gentleman in my view got himself into a slight trap. On the one hand, he says that we are driving people out, and on the other hand, despite the demographic points that he made, he says that outsiders are flooding in. He cannot have it both ways. We must ensure that the local economy draws from as wide a base of activities as possible, and we must recognise the need to sustain the social, cultural and environmental fabric. I agree with the cultural point made by the hon. Gentleman.

I think it is right to say that a debate on rural communities in Wales should start with agriculture. Milk quotas have dominated the past year. The hon. Gentleman was very critical of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and of the quota scheme, but in fact the main objectives of the outgoers scheme in England and Wales have been achieved. The majority of Welsh producers will benefit from the decision to bring back the quota of small producers to the 1983 production levels. Quota awarded by the tribunal fo exceptional hardship will also be met in full. Dairy producers will welcome the outcome of the common agricultural policy negotiations. A 1·5 per cent. increase in support prices is accompanied by a 1 per cent. fall in co-responsibility levy payable in 1985–86. I would be the first to recognise that difficulties remain. We are reviewing the situation to see what can be done, but, as is obvious to everybody, the room for manoeuvre is bound to be limited.

On beef and sheep, we have secured the continuation of the support mechanisms and successfully resisted the imposition of measures that would discriminate against United Kingdom producers. We have secured a significant amelioration of unsatisfactory aspects of the seasonal scale for sheepmeat. The industry has welcomed the increase in the wool guarantee price for the 1985 clip. Consumers will benefit from supplies of both lamb and beef at reasonable prices which would otherwise go to supplement the intervention stocks. There are lessons to be learnt from our recent experience. Sheep farmers demonstrated last year how responsive they can be to market signals. There was a decided shift in the marketing of Welsh lamb, especially leaner lamb, to take advantage of the higher prices available early and late in the season. Despite the problems they have faced, dairy farmers are adjusting their patterns of production to the quota. The hon. recognised none of those facts, which are absolutely essential to any debate on rural economy.

The new structures regulation has been widely welcomed. Assistance to farmers in the less-favoured areas will be continued. Fifteen thousand Welsh farmers now qualify for assistance following successful negotiation of the redefinition of the area in 1984. The industry has welcomed the wider grant coverage that is possible under the regulation. Decisions on the new capital grants scheme will be made shortly. That is not a picture of inertia or complacency, but of realistic action. — [Interruption.] I am not saying that everything is all right. There are many problems. However, it is not the picture of inertia or complacency suggested in the Opposition motion.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

Does the Minister recognise that many people in Wales, including both the farming unions, are desperately waiting for the Government to indicate what the future of agriculture in Wales will be? If the Government are not being complacent in refusing to issue a White Paper and to give guidance, what is the explanation?

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

It is not a question of complacency. As was clear from the hon. Gentleman's speech, he has not one original idea or contribution to make, despite his strictures on milk quotas. It would be easy to rush in and produce White Papers or even to delay them. It is a fast-changing situation. Everyone agrees that there must be proper reform of the CAP. We are in Europe. Those facts must be recognised in the current position.

The impact of the new development of the paper mill at Shotton will be to create nearly 400 jobs either in or serving the mill and to provide a firm market for more than 800 people in the United Kingdom forestry industry. That is a development of first importance.

There is further evidence of our commitment to realistic action in the work of the three development agencies in encouraging enterprise in rural communities. Under our policies, growth is being stimulated within existing towns. The aim is to have self-sustaining communities as a centre and economic anchor for their surrounding areas.

Newtown has become a thriving community. Unemployment rates have remained consistently below the average for Wales. My right hon. Friend was especially pleased recently to be able to approve proposals to develop a major factory which will be used by Laura Ashley Ltd. as its base for a new phase of development resulting in 500 jobs and protecting 1,200 jobs in and around Mid-Wales.

Photo of Mr Allan Rogers Mr Allan Rogers , Rhondda

In speaking of the activities of the Welsh Development Agency in Wales, will the Minister confirm that it is his Department's intention to privatise the commercial investment section of the WDA next year?

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

No, Sir. To the best of my knowledge that is a piece of fiction. I have no way of confirming any such thing — [Interruption.] As others have said at this Dispatch Box, wait and see. I cannot confirm any such thing.

In total, some 6,500 job opportunities have been brought to mid-Wales through factories which Mid-Wales Development either owns or has sold. A further 800 will follow from factories now under construction or at an advanced stage of planning.

Since 1980 the Welsh Development Agency has completed over 200 new factories in rural Gwynedd, Clwyd and Dyfed. The provision of rural sites and factories now concentrates on smaller-scale units for the benefit of local industries, and in Gwynedd the agency has built rural workshops to provide premises for craft-based industries.

The agency has also been involved with the Wales tourist board in the sponsorship of tourism studies. Tourism is particularly important to rural areas and the Wales tourist board is hard at work in promotion and in giving advice and financial assistance over a wide area, including farm tourism.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd made some points about education provision. Let us look at the facts, not the misrepresentations. First, in real terms, expenditure on education in Wales has been virtually constant over the past five years — despite the massive fall in public numbers. Secondly, expenditure on education per pupil is higher now in real terms than ever before. Thirdly, pupil-teacher ratios are at their best ever level. Fourthly, in a period of continually falling rolls, the education service in Wales has not only been maintained, as is clear from HMI reports but in many respects improved.

Of course I understand the problems of that local education authorities face in ensuring the most effective use of resources, including village schools, to secure what is in the best educational interests of our children, especially in sparsely populated areas. The answer must be founded in realism. The crucial need is to provide a system of education suited to the ages, abilities and aptitudes of the young people concerned. That may cause problems in the very small schools in our rural areas, and it is for that reason that we are supporting projects designed to improve the quality and range of the curriculum in such schools, as well as funding a research project in Powys that is looking at ways of supporting groups of small rural primary schools in a reasonable and cost-effective way.

Photo of Mr Peter Hubbard-Miles Mr Peter Hubbard-Miles , Bridgend

Does my hon. Friend agree that the standard of education depends to a great extent on the standard of teaching? Would not the standards of teaching in certain areas of Wales be greatly improved if the appointments system were taken out of the hands of politicians and put into the hands of the professionals? It should not be allowed to continue in the way supported by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers).

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

I know that that is a vexed question in many areas, not least in my hon. Friend's home patch.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

If I accept what the Minister has said about the gradual improvement in funding under this Government, and how they will put matters rights, may I ask when the quarter of Powys schools and the 40 per cent. of Dyfed schools that are pre-1903 will start to be replaced?

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

The hon. Gentleman made great play in his speech of pre-1903 schools. It is the quality of provision with which we are concerned, not the age of the building. That is not a vital symbol. As resources become available, development in that direction, which is highly desirable, will continue — [Interruption.] As a matter of fact, almost every school that I attended was pre-1903—indeed, some were pre-1600.

Education cannot be divorced from training—we are planning one of the most dramatic increases ever undertaken in the quantity and quality of training in both urban and rural areas. Our aim is to bring more training, better training and, above all, more relevant training closer to the people who want it and the industries that need it.

To take specific examples, next year alone we plan in Dyfed, Gwynedd, Powys and Clwyd an increase of well over 60 per cent. in the number of people trained More generally, there are grants to help employers train and upgrade the skills of the work force; training for enterprise to help small businesses and those planning to set up such businesses to establish themselves and grow; access to information technology for adults as well as for the young people who have up to now so clearly benefited from such training; and the extension of open access to technical education and training mainly for technicians and supervisors.

As part of these plans we have carried out a thorough-going review of the role of skillcentres. The existing skillcentre network needs to be rationalised, and in the context of this debate on rural communities I wish to say something about training in the area served by the Llanelli skillcentre.

It is our view, after careful consideration of all the arguments advanced by local interests, that the needs of the area of Dyfed currently served by the Llanelli skillcentre can be better and more effectively met by using local college and employer-based facilities, together with private trainers and making more use of the skillcentre at Port Talbot. It is intended to retain a smaller skillcentre training agency presence at Llanelli, probably at the Llanelli technical college, and to expand the use being made of the MSC-funded information technology centre in the town.

I do not for a second deny that for a small number of people, many of whom in any case already board away from home while training, some extra travelling will be involved. However, for the vast majority of people in the Llanelli area, in the area served by the west Gwent skillcentre, which is also to close, and throughout Wales, these plans offer a wider range of better training nearer home than at present.

Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

How will the closure of the skillcentre whose specific purpose was to provide for the mid-valley area in west Gwent bring training nearer to home when there is in everybody's estimation no adequate replacement for a skillcentre like that at that point?

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

We will be expanding the facilities at Newport. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the local authority at Blaenau Gwent has a facility at the Tafarnaubach opportunities centre. In addition, discussions are going on with Gwent local education authority to make provision which in many cases will mean less travelling although I cannot say that in every instance. Also, we have made sure that the skill training agency and the training division of the MSC are prepared to be extremely flexible about timing and also to consider the extra cost involved for individuals who are put at a disadvantage.

In regard to transport, of course I agree that adequate provision for transport, both public and private, is vital for the future of our rural communities. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) will recall once again that when he was Under-Secretary of State for Wales in 1977 he held a symposium at Aberystwyth to discuss what he described as a steady decline in rural transport services". Since then, of course, the decline has continued so that we now face a much greater problem than he did.

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

It is against this background of continuing decline that we have put so much emphasis upon taking positive steps to make radical and lasting improvements to public transport services such as the support for railways announced by my right hon. Friend in the Welsh Grand Committee on 15 May. British Rail has also recently announced that it has already spent £1·3 million on strengthening the Barmouth viaduct and that these works are to be completed in May 1986. These major investments will mean better, more cost-effective services for the rural communities served.

Photo of Mr Keith Best Mr Keith Best , Ynys Môn

Will my hon. Friend say whether the view of the Leader of the Opposition that rural transport in Wales is to be terminated is commensurate with the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Welsh Grand Committee on 15 May that £100,000 will be provided for the Mid-Wales and Cambrian line and £76,000 for the central Wales line from Mid-Wales Development? Is that commensurate with the knowledge of the Leader of the Opposition or does he need to do a little more homework?

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

I would say that it is not commensurate.

In regard to buses, our efforts are concentrated on the proposals contained in the Transport Bill. I do not accept the amendment that has been tabled on the Order Paper in the name of the Alliance. Our proposals will help to improve and modernise rural transport by encouraging new, more responsive services which are often better suited to rural areas than the conventional big bus, and by introducing a system of competitive tendering for subsidy, thereby ensuring that local authorities get better value for the subsidies they will be continuing to provide. A point was made earlier about cross-subsidy. It has never seemed to me that there is any logic in relatively low income people in some areas having to cross-subsidise perhaps better-off people in other areas.

Our proposal for an innovation grant will act as a pump primer for new transport schemes for rural areas. The hon. Member for Pontypridd said that he wanted imaginative ideas. I am sure he welcomes the innovation grant. In addition, to ensure continuity of services during the transition from the old to the new system, we are making available £50 million over four years in Great Britain as a whole in the form of a transitional rural bus grant. In the first full year this grant will amount to £20 million.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Will the Minister of State tell us how he expects such an innovation grant to help in the provision of continuing services for routes which are uneconomic anyway? What is the use of an innovation grant rather than a continuing grant? Secondly, will he tell us when we shall hear that a decent road is to be provided across mid-Wales for the public transport services to run on?

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

The innovation grant is intended to encourage new ideas to find out what profitable and imaginative schemes—

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Everyone knows the answer to that.

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

The hon. Gentleman may be omniscient but I certainly think that the day of the big bus trundling empty round country lanes is finished. Therefore, new and imaginative ideas, as called for by the hon. Member for Pontypridd, will be encouraged by the innovation grant. It is not meant to sustain the system ad infinitum. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a massive road building programme is laid down in "Roads in Wales". We are proceeding as rapidly as possible with that and hope in the not-too-distant future to provide better information and more up-to-date facts.

Health was referred to by the hon. Member for Pontypridd. The Government have remained committed to the development of hospital services in Wales with full regard to the needs of rural areas. The new district general hospital at Bangor is now fully open and those at Wrexham, Bridgend and Morriston are in their final stages of building and all should be open within a year. These hospitals have a wide rural catchment area. The community hospital at Mold has been open for over a year and has received wide acclaim. Construction of the new community hospital at Ystradgynlais is well under way and should be completed early next year. Those hospitals allow people to be treated nearer their homes when they do not require the more highly specialised facilities of a district general hospital. All those major developments have been funded by my Department.

Photo of Mr Gareth Wardell Mr Gareth Wardell , Gower

Does the Minister agree that it was not sensible for the West Glamorgan area health authority to decide to close the casualty department at the Singleton hospital? That has deprived constituents from virtually the whole of the Gower peninsula. The tourist inflow into that area in the summer will make it extremely difficult, in terms of time, for people to reach the accident centre at Morriston hospital.

Photo of Mr John Stradling Thomas Mr John Stradling Thomas , Monmouth

I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. He will be aware that it is a matter for decision by the area health authority. For us to spend our time second-guessing at the Dispatch Box is not the appropriate way to proceed.

My analysis has concentrated mainly on what is being done by way of public sector support to help encourage and stimulate the private sector. The Opposition will try to deny that this is a success story in difficult changing circumstances. They are wrong, and they will not succeed. The infrastructure is being developed. A wider range of industrial and service employment is being created while agriculture will continue its central contribution to the way of life and work. Most rural communities, far from being under threat, can now look forward to a future in which the prospect is not of migration but of increasing opportunities and a better quality of life.

I commend the amendment to the House.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General 4:50 pm, 4th June 1985

This Session, the House cannot have heard a more complacent speech from a Minister opening a debate of this kind than that of the Minister of State. If we were at the Royal Welsh show as opposed to the House of Commons, I am confident that the Minister would receive first prize for complacency. He would have the blue riband and be led around the grandstand, because he has failed to recognise that there is any problem in rural Wales.

I was born in rural Wales, most of my education was in rural Wales, and my home is in rural Wales. I therefore have some knowledge of what goes on. The economy is bound up with three aspects of our life there. The first is agriculture and forestry, the second is tourism and the third is small industry. I leave on one side the service industries, local government, the universities and some defence work. There is nothing constant in this world, but some things are more constant than others. There is a greater degree of inconstancy and uncertainty in the three primary points to which I have referred.

I shall deal immediately with agriculture as a supplement to what was said so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). Agriculture in Wales feels that it has been let down badly. It has no confidence in the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or in the Secretary of State for Wales. They fail to recognise a growing problem and when they went to speak in Brussels allegedly on behalf of British agriculture, they failed miserably. The result: was that action had to be taken far too quickly, without preparation and with insufficient warning to the industry. That caused misery and agony in the dairy industry.

If the Minister is unaware of the deep feelings in the Welsh dairy industry, he has no idea of what is happening in Welsh agriculture. The result has been a loss of confidence. It is all very well for him to say that he is confident about the future of Welsh agriculture, but when it comes down to pounds and pence would he today be able to put his hand on his heart and say to Welsh farmers that the climate for investment was right? If he is confident of that, will he firmly say in what sector it is right to invest?

Yesterday, we had a problem, which remains, with the over-production of milk. Today, the problem is cereals but that does not affect us so much. Tomorrow, the problem for beef and lamb will be much greater, I fear. I welcome every effort that is made to improve the quality, availability and attraction of Welsh lamb on the continent, where I believe there is a growing market.

The Minister must recognise that there is a change in people's eating habits. People are going off fats. If one talks to young people today, one finds that there is a tremendous growth in vegetarianism. There is a reaction against red meat. It is therefore time for the Government to recognise that today's fads may well be tomorrow's fashions. Welsh agriculture should receive some sign of where it is to go, upon what it should concentrate and what its prime aims in the future should be. It cannot afford a cut in another part of its production without greater hardships. When the Minister says that dairy farmers are adjusting, he means that they are tightening their belts.

In the Welsh countryside, we are all aware that the dependence upon agriculture is not solely that of the farmer or his farm worker; there is a four to one dependence, which was the factor that we used. When we add the carpenter, the schoolteacher, the cabinet maker and the rest there is a repercussive effect upon the agricultural economy. If the Minister goes to a garage, a shop, a restaurant or anywhere else in rural Wales, as I hope he will during the summer recess, everyone will tell him how tight are the belts in rural Wales and what the repercussive effects of the difficulties are upon agriculture.

The Government have had to cave in to the position in Brussels, but they must recognise that they have done agriculture a great disservice by not warning it sufficiently or taking adequate steps in time. Are they prepared for the next round of cuts in whatever product that may be? Will they give the industry sufficient warning in the future so that there can be planning and so that those young people who want to invest in agriculture can do so with confidence? I see the reports of the prices that farms are fetching, and the picture that I have is one of a lack of confidence in agriculture in rural Wales.

I come now to the problem of transport in rural Wales. In the old days, Brecon and Radnor had the highest proportion of car owners in the country. Car ownership then was not a luxury; it was a necessity because there was no other means of transport for dozens of people. When the head of the household has to use the family car to go to work because there is no other transport, the wife, the youngsters and the elderly are left with no transport. I welcome the innovations that we have heard described today, given that the Government are pursuing their philosophical dogma and selling the nation's buses and having a free-for-all under the Transport Bill.

What kind of transport will remain in rural Wales? Will the valleys in which I grew up remain as I know them? Will the valleys in the old counties of Cardigan and Carmarthen and the west of mid-Wales remain as other families know them? Will there be more or less transport in those areas? The Minister should be honest and tell the House that, whatever innovation there is, whatever piece of plaster is put on the wound, there will be greater deprivation in rural Wales. That is a great tragedy of the Transport Bill.

There has always been cross-subsidisation in rural Wales. It is written into the electricity legislation. If cross-subsidisation were not applied to the Post Office, letters to rural Wales would be charged at five times the price of those to urban London. If that is the Government's free market philosophy, it could mean that life in mid-Wales and rural Wales would not be a life worth living for anyone except the extremely affluent who had the resources to look after their own affairs. The poor will be driven out and these areas will become reservations in which the rich may enjoy themselves. They will be playgrounds for people from the urban communities and those who have the necessary affluence to afford basic services.

I commend the work of various chairmen and members of the Wales tourist board. How do the resources of the Wales tourist board compare with those of the English tourist board and the Scottish tourist board? Do we receive our fair share of the money available for tourism? I hope that the Minister can put me out of my misery and tell me that we in Wales receive more than our fair share for tourism. I hope that the hon. Gentleman fights a fair fight, and I would be happy if he were to tell me that that was so. I would, however, be surprised to hear it.

Could not a little more be done with respect to innovation? On Saturday, I heard the suggestion that the Wales tourist board could do more for fishing, which is an enormous attraction in the Principality. I declare an interest as an occasional angler. I know that there are some problems and that we cannot fish the number of fish that were available in the past. During the past few years, the catch has not been all that good. There have been suggestions that a small area could be set aside for a man-made lake providing employment and offering fishing facilities. If we had the resources of the Wales tourist board, the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency, encouragement from the Welsh Office and funds from Brussels, we might be able to do more.

The Government have nothing to their credit with respect to innovations in machinery to deal with the problems of Wales. The Labour Government set up the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales. But for those prime weapons, this Government would have no machinery to deal with the problems of Wales.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Gentleman may make his speech in his own time. The machinery which I have described and the economic activities which are not encouraged were decried by the present Secretary of State for Wales when the measure were put before the House.

Photo of Mr Donald Coleman Mr Donald Coleman , Neath

Surely my right hon. and learned Friend is not surprised at this, in view of the fact that a number of Conservative Members voted in the Welsh Grand Committee against setting up those institutions.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

My hon. Friend was the Whip on those occasions. Conservative Members opposed the setting up of the WDA when we tried to get the matter speedily passed through the House. The Wales TUC carried a resolution deploring the activities on the Floor of the House. The present Secretary of State for Wales initially opposed the formation of the Development Board for Rural Wales, but realised that that was a mistake and eventually went along with the idea. No new machinery has been developed since then. Without the weapons of the Welsh Development Agency and the Development Board for Rural Wales, the Government's cupboard would be bare.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friends who were in the Labour Cabinet for accepting my views on the need for WDA. They gave me every support in setting up that body and giving it the necessary resources. I felt, however, that mid-Wales needed more. Thirty-two years ago last Saturday, when I was 21,I came down from university and was asked at a young farmers' rally whether I would like to be the parliamentary Labour candidate for the county of Cardigan. I went to the selection panel, having been asked by a distinguished "Cardi" to accept the candidacy. I had to do my military service, so the constituency rightly rejected me. I made my speech at that meeting on the basis of a famous report by a distinguished Welshman, H. T. Edwards, who was chairman of the Council of Wales. He said that a statutory board was required to deal with the problems of mid-Wales. It was my great privilege more than 20 years later to put that into effect and to carry out the promise I made at that conference.

Not many people wanted that board. The provision was not in any party policy. The Welsh Office and the present Secretary of State did not want it. I discovered, after three awful months, that the man in the Welsh Office who was supposed to be organising the matter, had been taken off the job. If I had not realised that and had not taken immediate steps to correct the position, the legislation would not have been ready in time. That was one of the few occasions on which I blew my top in the Welsh Office. I had Eric Varley's support. He recognised the needs. All the difficulties in the Department of Trade and Industry were overridden, and the body was established.

The Welsh Development Agency was necessary because I believed that it could tackle the major problems of Wales. Something more than a broad-brush approach was needed in mid-Wales. We needed the fine touch of the paint brush. We needed a few thousand pounds here and there to prime the pump in the rural community. We were afraid that depopulation would occur in rural Wales to such an extent that we could not put the clock back. If the population comprised only the elderly, with no one able to earn his livelihood, the cost of providing social services would be so enormous that it would mean the end of the road for mid-Wales.

I very much welcome the arresting of the depopulation trend in some parts of Wales. We must, however, analyse the age of the population and ascertain the extent to which the arrest has been caused by people retiring to rural Wales rather than by the retention of people in that area. Only a tiny minority of the people who were in the same form as I was in Aberyswyth are still earning their livelihood in the old county of Cardigan. We have continued to lose our life blood. Major steps were taken with the Development Board for Rural Wales. I was convinced that only a statutory board could solve the problems. The development of Newtown is a shining example of the improvements. The DBRW needs more resources. If it had those resources, it could provide those pockets of industry that would enable the quality of life to be changed in many parts of the community.

Lack of resources is the problem in mid-Wales. I believe passionately that, such is the quality of life in that area, with a little help—I am not talking about a lot of money—something could be done to achieve a better balance of population. I fear that rural Wales will have an aging population, and not a broad-based population able to hold its own and provide sufficient employment for the best of its young people. For far too many years, we have educated for export. That is why we have lost so many of the best of our young people. Until I am convinced that we have done more than merely arrest the depopulation trend, and have provided job opportunities to retain more young people, I shall not be confident about rural Wales.

I hope that 1 have underlined the point that, even if the Minister of State is not concerned about the problems of rural Wales, many of us are. It is not the time for complacency. Years of work must be done to ensure that the clock is put back and that there is a thriving community. It will take years for agriculture to recover from the damaging blows during the past few years. It will be years before people have the necessary confidence to invest in it in Wales. We must ensure that, whatever the crisis—perhaps because of problems of over-production in other industries—funds are available. Vitality, funds, drive, imagination and investment are needed for Wales to cope with the problems that may occur during the next few years.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Vale of Glamorgan 5:09 pm, 4th June 1985

Without detracting from what the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) did for mid-Wales, I am sure that he would agree that he was greatly assisted by the self-help groups which had set up an organisation there before Mid-Wales Development was created and which had done extremely valuable work.

Photo of Sir John Morris Sir John Morris Shadow Attorney General

I certainly accept that. I built the Development Board for Rural Wales on that basis, and incorporated on the initial board some of the distinguished people who had served on those bodies.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Vale of Glamorgan

To that extent, I subscribe to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, but the foundations had been laid by the self-help initiatives of the county councils.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) misled the House when he asked for a White Paper. He spoke as though we were not in Europe, and almost gave the impression that we need not conduct difficult international negotiations before deciding on many of those changes.

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows whether we are in Europe. I am not clear whether he lives in the modern world. If I am misleading the House —that is a fairly serious charge to make—I am doing it in common with the NFU in Wales and the Financial Times last week. If the hon. Gentleman would read about farming, he might learn a little more.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Vale of Glamorgan

That is a facile remark which does not take us much further. The tenor of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that we could produce a White Paper now just as easily as we could have done before we joined the Community. That has the result of misleading the House.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon seems to want the Minister to be a soothsayer who can anticipate the eating habits a few years hence. It is inconceivable that we can work along those lines. He and the hon. Member for Pontypridd must know that any Minister with responsibility for agriculture is in a difficult position and must, in some respects, follow rather than lead events. It is not easy for Ministers to say what will happen next year or the year after, and I hope that hon. Members will be fair enough to accept that.

Despite the undoubted problems of the predominantly milk-producing areas, agriculture still makes a formidable contribution to the economy of the Principality. However, there will be difficulties ahead, and the hon. Member for Pontypridd was correct to say that we must expect problems in other sectors of agriculture. It is conceivable that there will be over-production in other sectors. In a Community it is difficult to anticipate future needs and to produce exactly the right amount. These are highly technical matters, and I would not condemn a Government of any party for having difficulties in this area.

Welsh farmers will have problems, but there is still a splendid future for agriculture in Wales, even taking into account the manifest difficulties owing to geographical conditions, to the fact that many of our areas have suffered for a long time from inaccessibility, and to the fact that we do not have a large proportion of the higher-grade land that can be found in some parts of the United Kingdom. In the past, many of our farmers were too small to be economic, but these has been some improvement in that respect. Much of our land is in the upland and hill-farming areas, which have benefited from the special provision that has been made by the Community for less-favoured areas.

It is noteworthy that, after about a century and a half of serious depopulation in parts of mid-Wales — especially in the old county of Montgomery, which suffered constant depopulation for well over a century— there is evidence that the worst of that has been stopped.

I echo the tributes that have been paid to Mid-Wales Development, the Welsh Development Agency and the Wales tourist board for their efforts in rural mid-Wales.

Despite the economic recession, successive Ministers in successive Governments deserve congratulations on maintaining the broad impetus of the road building programme. The extension of the M4 motorway to the west has produced great benefits to the farming areas of Dyfed, Carmarthen, Pembrokeshire and Cardigan. Similarly, north-west Wales must have benefited from the steady improvement in communications. I take the point of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) that the road system in mid-Wales must be improved. However, when I have driven through Powys, I have been greatly impressed by the quality of many main roads. The county council must be congratulated on them. It is an amazing achievement that so many roads have improved, and it is certainly much more pleasant and easier to drive through Builth and Llandridnod to Newtown than it was a decade ago.

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

Has the hon. Gentleman recently tried to drive from Powys via Wrexham to Merseyside or the Manchester area? If so, will he confirm that it is a journey which few would undertake, unless they had strong reasons for doing so, because of the appalling roads along that route?

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Vale of Glamorgan

I admit that I have not done that during the past few years, but when I wished to travel that way, I usually drove to Shrewsbury and then north.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Vale of Glamorgan

That is so. I repeat that I have been impressed by the condition of the roads in large areas of Powys.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon and the hon. Member for Pontypridd expressed their legitimate doubts about the new plans for the bus industry. However effective or ineffective they may be in other parts of Wales, it seems likely that the flexibility of the new system is almost designed to effect some improvement in rural areas. In recent years, in some parts of mid-Wales and Powys, adequate transport has been almost non-existent. Some villages have had no real bus services for a long time. The new arrangements cannot be worse than the present position, and the chances are that they will lead to an improvement. Hon. Members are on the wrong tack when they relate the future of the bus industry to the subject of today's debate, because, in this narrow area, there is a great prospect of considerable improvement.

In addition to some of the matters mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), rural Wales, especially mid-Wales, needs continued road improvements. I would set that above many of the other things that have been referred to. The inaccessibility of so much of mid-Wales must be cured.

Parts of mid-Wales would benefit from the adoption of the methods and practice of Mid-Wales Development to adjacent areas in north-west Wales, northern Dyfed and Carmarthen. I echo the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon in that I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some information about the degree of real help given by the Exchequer to the Wales tourist board. Is it having a fair deal as compared with the tourist boards in England and Scotland?

In addition, I should like continued provision of the smaller purpose-built advance factories in suitable parts of rural Wales where there is an adequate population for them. Finally, additional steps should be taken to assist the increasing number of craft industries, which are a valuable adjunct to our tourist industry. In the past, our craft industries have been poorer than those overseas. Although there has been a radical improvement in this industry in the past few years, some extra assistance here could be fruitful.

Although I am not as pessimistic as some hon. Members who have spoken, I recognise that the problems of rural Wales are considerable. Despite the world recession and our economic difficulties, matters are not nearly as bad as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 5:22 pm, 4th June 1985

Although I am pleased that we have been given an opportunity to debate Welsh affairs once again, it is rather disappointing that the Labour party should have asked for only half a day in which to debate such a crucial aspect of our national life.

It is a significant, not to say cynical, gesture on the part of a movement that largely ignored the rural population when in power, to decide to debate the matter at all now. The Labour party is, broadly speaking, out of sympathy with a large sector of the rural community on whose vitality and resource the economy of these areas depends —the farming community.

The Labour party has campaigned vigorously to get us out of Europe, yet, despite the several and serious shortcomings of the common agricultural policy, agriculture in Wales would be in a much worse state if we withdrew. It is interesting to note that, when a Tory Member tried to bring in a Bill to rate agricultural buildings a couple of weeks ago, the most solid support for it came from the Labour Benches. In my view, such a policy would harm Welsh fanners more than most because livestock farming which uses buildings, is important to them.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would explain why, if that is so, the Liberal-Social Democratic policy document on local government states:

There is only one exclusion from the rating system which can no longer be justified: the derating of agricultural land and buildings. The re-rating of agriculture would strengthen the rate base of many local authorities with low resources. Is that the policy of the alliance or is the alliance split on this as on everything else?

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

With respect, I was talking about the Bill which was defeated in the House only a fortnight ago. Tory and Labour Governments have been given opportunities to help farmers in hill and marginal areas, but they have been remarkably reluctant to take them. It is one thing to say today that more acres in Wales have been taken under the marginal land scheme, but the farmers of Wales know—I do not think that they will forgive Tory or Labour Governments for this—that they did not receive the full hill compensatory allowance. That was a retrograde step. Farmers should not have been penalised when the Europeans were willing to provide the money.

It is good that we have a chance to highlight the serious problems facing rural communities, despite the limited time given to the subject, because the problems have been exacerbated by mindless and insensitive Tory policies. During the past six years, Wales has been treated shamefully by the Tories and, in many respects, rural Wales has suffered as much as industrial areas.

One example of insensitivity and incompetence in policy making is the Government's dealing with the milk quota system. It is important not to underestimate the effects of the milk quota on rural Wales. Although there are now only about one quarter as many milk producers as there were 30 years ago, we now produce twice as much milk. The economy of certain areas in highly dependent on milk production. The milk quota system has hit those areas hard and farmers have suffered severe financial losses.

It is generally agreed that the tribunals set up to deal, with hardship cases have not succeeded in helping all those who need and deserve help. There are serious anomalies, and steps must be taken to amend the system so that producers receive justice. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State could tell us of any plans he may have in this direction. It is unbelievable that Ministers should say that it is all right to introduce a quota system for small dairy producers in Britain when they have no plans to introduce a quota system for cereal growers, but that is what the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said a fortnight ago.

The Government have ignored the importance of agriculture in Wales. They do not recognise the problems and have failed to give any indication of policies for the future that would help to give the industry stability. Instead, they have concentrated on cutting money for research services and have curtailed the activities of the agricultural development and advisory service. Welsh farming has special problems and is bound to suffer as a result of those cuts.

One of the Government's worst-thought-out measures this Session-—and there have been many—is to be found in the Transport Bill, which is going through Parliament on the payroll vote. The privatisation of the bus networks would do untold damage in Wales. We might have efficient services connecting sparsely populated areas with villages and towns, but they would be destroyed if the Bill in enacted. So-called uneconomic routes would be ignored in the fight for lucrative long-distance or town routes and those least able to afford their own transport — the young, the unemployed seeking work, the elderly wishing to visit a doctor, a post office or shops—would be left stranded.

There is a constant attack on rural schools. With the recent Tory trend of insisting on value for money in education, more rural schools will come under threat. As these schools are closed, so the communities they serve will decline. How can one place a value on education or on community ties? Why deprive our children of a first-class amenity in the name of prudent money saving? The alliance believes that any school with two teachers or more should be kept open and that special consideration should be given to social and community aspects before deciding to close even the smallest school.

The Government's mania for so-called efficiency and cost cutting is also threatening our rural post offices and telephone kiosks. We hear daily of small sub-post offices çlosing in villages where there is an aging population. This forces the inhabitants to travel miles to collect their pensions and allowances. No efforts are made to find new tenants for vacant sub-post offices. In all their calculations, the Government have left out the social consequences of their scrimping and saving and they have succeeded in making the quality of life for rural dwellers much poorer.

I am also concerned about the effect on large parts of rural Wales of cuts in the National Health Service. Many patients already travel long distances for hospital care and treatment and now more local and cottage hospitals are to close. If we are to help the rural communities, it is essential that we take an enlightened view and that we spend more money on amenities and services. We must begin by restoring and improving the infrastructure, by building and maintaining better roads and encouraging the development of our rail services. This in turn could help to encourage more light industry and to provide stable and rewarding jobs for the people of the area. I am glad that the Mid-Wales development board is doing an excellent job, within the limits laid down for it. I should like to see its scope extended and its work better funded. It is essential to extend a lifeline to small business in rural areas. During the years of Tory rule, thousands of them have gone to the wall. The small business and self-employed sector is of vital importance to the economic well-being of rural Wales. Small businesses have been shabbily treated by this Government. They must be encouraged to grow and thus take on more employees.

Tourism is now an important fact of life in many rural areas. It could save the economy of many areas from foundering. The Wales tourist board has accepted the challenge. The Government should recognise that by giving special additional grants, bearing in mind the needs of Wales.

We must revitalise rural Wales. We must give it more hope by creating real jobs and by providing essential services. The Tory Government have completely failed. It is no wonder that the Welsh people rejected them so resoundingly during the recent county council elections.

The suggestion has been made today that the Government should introduce a White Paper on the future of agriculture in Wales. To restore confidence among the agricultural community in Wales we need a ten-year plan for the industry so that farmers in all sectors can plan ahead. To help young men entering agriculture, we should set up a land bank to give them special facilities, like their counterparts in Europe.

Our smallholdings system has worked well in many parts of Wales. I am proud of Dyfed county council and other counties which have not sold their smallholdings. To save the infrastructure of agriculture the Government must give extra financial aid to county councils to ensure that they provide more smallholdings for those who want to start in agriculture.

The Minister said that everything was rosy in Wales and that grants were forthcoming. Even in Powys, Brecon and Radnor fanners are aware of the cuts in grant that have been made in the last twelve months. The Government promise more cuts in the years to come. Welsh farmers should have the opportunity to use a capital grant scheme, which has worked exceptionally well in the past decade or two, or they should be able to obtain cheap credit. Farmers would have the choice if the scheme became optional. Such a system works well on the continent and our counterparts in Europe are willing for our Government to introduce such a scheme, which would be beneficial to everyone in Wales.

Now that the Secretary of State has full responsibility for Welsh agriculture he should go to Brussels to represent Welsh agriculture during negotiations on the price review. If I am wrong I am willing to be corrected, but to my knowledge, he has been only once, when he negotiated the sheepmeat regime for 1979–80. It is his duty to go to Brussels on behalf of the people involved in agriculture.

There is another problem in the east Dyfed health authority area. Many beds are to go at Llanelli, Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. I hope that the Secretary of State can do something to avoid hospitals having to cut spending in the next twelve months.

The Government have said that they plan cuts worth £30 million in research establishment expenditure. Many of us are afraid that untold damage will be done to the Welsh plant breeding station at Aberystwyth. It would be a great shame because it is the only national institution of its kind in Wales. We do not think that it will be closed, but it needs to be restored so that it can continue to provide work for the people in the area. It should be available to help those who want to develop different types of grasses in the Third world.

I have received many letters lately from people who are worried about policing in the rural areas. It is a pity that crime is on the increase. Many people in the rural areas would like a different method of policing to be used. Methods are the responsibility of the chief constables, but some people believe in a more flexible policy. The police should travel in cars round the rural areas, but there is much to be said for the village bobby. In my view we need both.

Those of us who live in the rural areas are proud of our culture, heritage and language. Many of us have pressed —I have pressed in particular—that we should have a board to look after the interests of the Welsh language and its development in the years to come. It should be preserved. It is our duty to do so. I hope that the Government in their wisdom will accept the plea that has been made by many Welsh-speaking Welshmen throughout the Principality, that we should safeguard our culture and our language.

Photo of Mr Roger Thomas Mr Roger Thomas , Carmarthen

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that the Welsh Joint Education Council recently came out flatly against such a board for securing the future and even distribution of facilities for the Welsh language? I believe that it is a disappointing state of affairs and I think that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed, too.

Photo of Mr Geraint Howells Mr Geraint Howells , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. I expected the council to say just what it did, but I believe that we need a board to look after the interests of the Welsh language.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Clwyd North West 5:41 pm, 4th June 1985

I am sorry that the Labour party should choose to introduce this interesting debate in the terms that it used. I am sure that at the conclusion of the debate Labour Members will be sorry about that. However, I found myself reluctantly nodding in agreement with a great deal of what the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said about an enhanced role for the Welsh development agency. Whoever else will be glad of the debate, I am sure that the Liberal party will not wish to study too closely the report of today's proceedings, particularly the demolition of its agricultural policy by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

The story of rural Wales is in fact a success story, though Heaven knows there is plenty of room for improvement. Those of us on the Select Committee who visited mid-Wales recently during our inquiry into tourism are still in the process of making up our minds about the overall performance of the Wales tourist board, but for the work of Mid-Wales Development—or the Development Board for Rural Wales, as we used to call it—we all have nothing but praise. Of course the withdrawal of assisted area status, necessitated by the overdue rationalisation of regional policy, was a blow to its efforts, but by energy and adaptability, it has done much to overcome that, and in particular to find ways of continuing to draw support from the EEC. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will continue his efforts to make such aid available, and to extend it to those areas of rural Wales that are no longer formally designated as assisted areas.

There are limits to the expansion of industrial activity in rural Wales, though the Laura Ashley saga, which reflects the greatest possible credit on all concerned, suggests that there is still considerable scope for expansion in the right sort of manufacturing industry. But, of course, the industry where expansion is most clearly called for is tourism. It would be out of order as well as premature to discuss tourism at any length today, but we would do well to keep it at the back of our minds, for tourism, which can provide so many jobs and create so much prosperity, cannot itself flourish unless the environment and the infrastructure are adequate to nourish it. Here there is a virtuous circle that needs to be initiated.

No doubt the debate will be used to attack the Government's Transport Bill. There is an element of risk in the Bill, for unless the entrepreneurs come forward to provide the local transport services that can now be made profitable by the removal of restrictions, we shall have wrecked a poor transport system and left ourselves with nothing. I do not for one moment believe that that will happen. I am sure that there is enough wit and will in Wales to provide flexible transport services, not merely to meet the present known needs, but to create new travel opportunities for the countryside, and in the process to make that countryside more attractive to tourists.

The railways of Wales are among the major tourist attractions as well as the vital artery in the economy as a whole. The most stupid rumours are being circulated by those who ought to know better, such as the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). I am sorry to say that normally sensible local papers have been picking up those rumours and giving them currency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has demonstrated in the most tangible fashion his support for railway lines in Wales. It should not be necessary, but I have to ask him yet again to make it perfectly plain in his winding-up speech that there is no question of closing the north Wales line or any of the other major lines in Wales.

Photo of Mr Keith Best Mr Keith Best , Ynys Môn

My hon. Friend will not be aware that yesterday I spoke to Mr. Harewood, the area manager based at Chester, who found it quite extraordinary that statements were being made about possible closure of the north Wales line. A large amount of investment is going into upgrading that line so that it can take trains that travel at 90 mph.

Photo of Sir Anthony Meyer Sir Anthony Meyer , Clwyd North West

That shows how foolish it is to listen to anything said by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich.

There are other areas where misgivings may be more justified, and if my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can give any reassurance, it would be much appreciated. The first concern is smaller schools. It is hopelessly uneconomic and educationally unsatisfactory to try to keep every school open as the numbers dwindle with falling school rolls. The school is the heart of a community and the closure of a school can be a terrible blow to the spirit of that community. There are already rumours that large and successful comprehensive schools may be closed if their numbers fall below 1,000. In that climate, there is a natural anxiety that the criteria for the closure of schools in rural areas may be continuously raised until few of them qualify for survival. I ask my right hon. Friend in his winding-up speech to give me some assurance that his Department will not merely take into account— and encourage local education authorties to take into account — the cost of running the schools or even their educational efficiency, but will give some weight to the place of those schools in the life of the communities that they serve.

The other matter that worries me, which has been referred to by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) relates to sub-post offices. Some of the same considerations apply here as apply to schools. The Post Office Corporation in its entirely laudable pursuit of profitability, is now closing down a number of post offices, so far mainly in urban areas, on the grounds that they are unprofitable. I believe that that is a faulty calculation based on the concept of reducing activity until the point of profitability is reached instead of expanding until one reaches the other end of the profit curve. The closure of sub-post offices in urban areas inflicts inconvenience and occasional hardship on individuals. If such a policy of closure were extended to the countryside—I accept the assurance that so far there is no intention to do so—the consequences would be a good deal more serious. A village without a post office or a school is a poor thing, and an inexorably decaying thing.

By far the most important activity in rural Wales is agriculture. Agriculture in Wales, especially milk producing, has passed through a worrying period. The worst has not happened largely because of the dismal expectations aroused by the announcement of milk quotas. There are other worries ahead and for other sectors of agriculture. Welsh farming has done well in past years out of the common agricultural policy, and much of it is still doing well. It is within a common agricultural policy for Europe that the best future for Welsh agriculture lies. However, the immense and insuperable difficulty of getting decisions out of the Common Market makes it impossible for Ministers to operate the changes that would enable agriculture in Wales to make a far greater and better directed contribution to the well-being of the countryside by, for example, concentrating subsidies much more on the less favoured areas, and by reducing the excessive prices paid for crops or production already in surplus. However, it is not for those who stoutly defend the right of each member state to veto a decision which it may find mildly inconvenient, to complain that the EC has been reduced to paralysis and that the common agricultural policy is not contributing as it should to the well-being of the countryside. I have never concealed my view. If we want the EC to work—there is no point in being in it, if we do not—we must accept far more limitations on our right of veto than any Minister seems ready to contemplate. If the Liberal party takes that as a sign of approval for some of its policies, it is the only sign of approval that it will get from me today.

One thing is certain: rural Wales gets a better deal from a Conservative Government than it would from a Labour Government, who would knock the props from agriculture and lay heavy burdens on it, or from an alliance Government, who, we learn, would impose other such burdens on agriculture, and who have yet to show that they can sustain the long-term policies necessary to revitalise the countryside, or from Plaid Cymru, whose policies would cut Wales off from the desperately needed flow of outward investment. I have no hesitation in supporting the Government amendment.

Photo of Mr Donald Coleman Mr Donald Coleman , Neath 5:51 pm, 4th June 1985

Both the Minister and the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Sir R. Gower) referred to the halt in the depopulation of mid-Wales. It is to be welcomed, and they welcomed it, as I do. When I first came to the House we established the Welsh Office. Our first Secretary of State for Wales, James Griffiths, made it his work to ensure that the depopulation of Mid-Wales should and must be halted. He was undoubtedly given the most expert advice on the matter from no less a person than the late Tudor Watkins, who represented Brecon and Radnor for a long time, and knew the problems of mid-Wales and its counties well.

Our motion condemns the Government's complacency. We listened to the Minister of State, whom the Opposition regard as both likeable and affable, introducing the subject, but, despite our kind feelings and thoughts towards him, I must agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who accused him of complacency. I found nothing to convince me that the Government were as serious as they should be about the problems of rural Wales.

The motion goes on to talk about the need for a change in Government policies towards rural communities in Wales. Almost a year ago I listened intently, as I always do, during a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee about rural affairs in Wales. Many hon. Members drew the attention of the Secretary of State for Wales to the problems that were created by last summer's drought, especially its serious effect on the rural communities in Wales. I re-read the report of that debate, and it does not seem that members of the Committee were satisfied with the answers that they received from the right hon. Gentleman. Each of us hopes that we shall have the benefit of fine weather again this year, but we do not want a repeat of the experience that was complained of in the Welsh Grand Committee last year.

When the Minister replies to the debate, it is not too much to expect from him an assurance that the problems caused by the drought last year will not take place this year if we are fortunate enough to have a long dry spell this summer. We want to hear from him that the Welsh water authority has made funds available to implement the work known to be needed to avoid the problems of drought, especially in rural areas.

The rural areas are places of exceptional beauty, and living in them should be nothing short of idyllic. Unfortunately, the Government and their policies are as much a blight on those rural areas as on urban areas. Many of the problems are the same, but many are intensified in their effect in rural areas. The Transport Bill, which is now in another place, is an example of that. Indeed, hon. Members have already alluded to it today.

People in rural areas cannot be confident that under the new legislation the existing network of bus services in rural areas will survive. When the process of privatisation gets under way and the National Bus Company disappears from our roads, there can be no certainty that a benevolent privateer will jump in to provide the bus services, poor as they may be in rural areas. The poor and the elderly will be returned to the Prime Minister's much-loved Victorian times when the boundaries of their world were the distance that they could walk.

Supporters of the Government have expressed their conviction that privatisation of bus services will provide a better and cheaper service in rural areas. They are certainly easy to convince, but perhaps it is because their experience of these matters is limited. From my experience of the valleys of my constituency, many of which are semi-rural, I do not see the chances of rural areas as being bright. If there is not a publicly owned operation which is required by statute to provide services, and if one thinks that a privateer will do so, one is whistling in the dark. Because of the Government's transport policy, rural communities will find themselves having to pay fewer bus fares, but greater shoe repair bills.

I shall touch briefly on another matter of Government policy which will cause serious trouble in rural areas, if it is implemented. In his recent Budget statement, the Chancellor of the Exchequer foreshadowed the dismantling of the wages councils. On Sunday new minimum wage rates for farm workers came into effect. The workers should ponder whether this will be the last time that they will have such an award, and whether the future will return them to the bad old times that they experienced in the past. They should concenţrate their minds on that.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) talked about the culture of Wales. Within the upper regions of the Swansea valley the Craig-y-Nos hospital is about to close. It was the home of Adelina Patti. Proposals have been made which would ensure that that building, in a beautiful rural setting, could be used for the advancement of culture, and to promote the study of the area. Some parts of the building could be used for the establishment of rural industries. But we are being told by the Government and by the Welsh Office that the building must appear in the auctioneer's catalogue and be sold to the highest bidder. Yet it is part of our cultural heritage in Wales, and we have the right to expect a different attitude to be taken to it. Therefore, I urge the Secretary of State to look carefully at the proposals and to preserve that part of our national heritage.

A year ago there were complaints that the decline in rural Wales was continuing. There were indications of it in the reduction in the number of agricultural workers and in the reduction in educational opportunities in the rural areas. Churches and chapels and even public houses were closing. There has been nothing from the Government in the debate today to indicate to us or to the Welsh people and those who live in the Welsh rural communities that the decline has either halted or decreased. We have been made aware, as I have tried to demonstrate, and as other hon. Members have, that Government policies are under consideration which will make the situation even worse.

I hope that people in the rural areas of Wales will take note of the debate and will recognise that they are part of the Government's policy of neglect which has left Britain a very much worse off place than it was when the Government came on the scene in 1979. The only remedy for that neglect will be to get rid of the Government as soon as is possible.

Photo of Mr Robert Harvey Mr Robert Harvey , Clwyd South West 6:02 pm, 4th June 1985

I shall be very brief, because this seems to me to be a most curious debate. A deep concern for the countryside has not been evident in Labour party pronouncements in the past. Farming is still a major producer of wealth in rural Wales. Even though only 4 per cent. of the Clwyd labour force is directly employed in it, the prosperity and jobs that it generates go much wider.

What is Labour party policy on agriculture? The indignation that emanated from the Labour benches when milk quotas were imposed — to cheers from the Strangers' Gallery from Dyfed farmers—would lead one to assume that the Opposition were determined to maintain food surpluses, would keep in being the old dairy arrangements, and would go on allowing producers to expand as if there were no tomorrow. Yet what would the Labour party do? The answer that we heard from the Labour Front Bench today was not altogether clear.

At a Financial Times conference last year, the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) said bluntly:

We can reduce the number of products which are covered by guarantee, and we can cut the guarantee to an economically justifiable level. More important, we can begin an assault on surplus capacity, reducing rather than increasing the amount of uneconomic production. That at least has the virtue of honesty. The position taken by Conservative Members is that, in view of the economic contribution that farming makes to the rural communities, the cuts should be as small and as gradual as possible, although in my view the cuts imposed last year went too far. But the Labour position is that "an assault" should be made on fanning incomes, on the very lifeblood of our rural communities. I wonder what is now the attitude of the Labour party to the repeated resolutions for the nationalisation of the land passed at Labour party conferences. Is nationalisation of the land official Labour party policy or is it not? The rural communities of Wales deserve an answer.

I am glad to see that even Labour Members have welcomed the retention of the beef variable premium, and recognise the staggering victory that was achieved by the Government in the recent settlement on land when a concerted EEC attack on the price was beaten off. That will be a major reassurance to the hill farmers of rural Wales.

The other lifeline of our rural communities is tourism. Tourism in our Principality is growing apace, thanks to Government action in encouraging the small business sector, in raising the threshold at which small businesses pay tax, and in easing the employment protection legislation that prevents them from growing.

Much has been said about bus services in the debate. The fact remains that bus services have been declining steadily under the existing system, which has encouraged high fares, high subsidies and fewer services. The hope —I recognise that it is only a hope—arising from the Transport Bill must be that a more competitive bus system can halt the decline in the vital services to the neediest people in our rural communities.

It is hard to fault the Government's record on roads. The A470, A465, A40, A47, A438, A48, A487 and A55 have all helped to open up rural Wales. The straightening and widening of roads in rural areas such as Powys has indeed gone beyond the point at which it might be environmentally desirable.

With regard to railways, the £176,000 recently pledged for the improvement of the mid-Wales and Cambrian lines must be taken as a vote of confidence in the future of those services, which so admirably serve rural areas. However, any attempt by British Rail to single-track the Chester to Shrewsbury line would be a hammer blow to the urban and rural communities along that line, which serves a great deal of Wales, and I urge the Secretary of State to do everything in his power to influence British Rail on the matter.

Our record in helping rural communities is admirable, and I hope that it will lead to—

Photo of Mr Alex Carlile Mr Alex Carlile , Montgomery

The hon. Gentleman says that the Government's record in helping rural areas is admirable.

Through his rose-coloured glasses, will he tell us the admirable reasons which have led to Powys being the only county in Wales which is no longer eligible for assistance from the European social fund?

Photo of Mr Robert Harvey Mr Robert Harvey , Clwyd South West

I have outlined in great detail the areas in which the Government's record is extremely favourable. I have some doubts about the way in which regional support was changed, and I have expressed those doubts in the Welsh Grand Committee. Nevertheless, the overall position has been one of considerable success in regenerating the rural communities of Wales.

I urge the Secretary of State to look at one other area in which he might contribute to helping the rural communities in Wales. I refer to the funding of small craft workshop projects of the kind being pursued by Clwydfro in Clwyd as a cheaper and more direct way of stimulating local employment, in keeping with the character of rural areas, than advance factories necessarily are.

With regard to the Opposition's motive in calling the debate, I was puzzled to find in a recent policy document on Wales put out by the Labour party no mention of rural Wales—not a word. The rural communities of Wales have shown in the past two decades how much the Labour party cares for them by converting themselves into Conservative seats. I would not for a moment suggest that the Labour party, in calling the debate, was motivated by anything as dishonourable as the prospect of an approaching by-election in a seat with a large rural hinterland, but the party should look at the rather curious outlook of some of its political advisers. Some of these advisers are very strange indeed and very anti-agricultural. I understand that the research department of the Labour party has just produced a children's book on trade unionism which tells the story of farm animals—

Photo of Mr Brynmor John Mr Brynmor John , Pontypridd

I would not expect the hon. Gentleman to know a great deal about politics; he has had enough difficulty in keeping to his Central Office brief. The Labour research department is not a vehicle or a department of the Labour party.

Photo of Mr Robert Harvey Mr Robert Harvey , Clwyd South West

I am glad to have that reassurance. I was a little surprised to see that this document had been published by the research department, and I am glad to have it on record that it reflects in no way the sentiments of the Labour party. This children's book on trade unionism tells the story of farm animals going on strike to protest at dangerous, rusty machinery that they work with and the rotten food that they get from Mr. Moneybags, the farmer, in return for working a 12-hour day. I might enlighten the Opposition by saying that no farmer would become Mr. Moneybags if he did not use modern machinery and high yield feeding stuffs and if he did not work a 16-hour day.

The value of this debate is that it reveals the extent of the Labour party's knowledge of and attitude towards farming and rural Wales and those who work there.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy 6:11 pm, 4th June 1985

I was disappointed by one point in the Minister of State's otherwise excellent opening speech. The propaganda machine at the Welsh Office has for once neglected to make any announcement about "goodies". No doubt we shall have to wait for the winding-up speech of the Secretary of State for Wales before those "goodies" are announced.

The Minister of State asked for a positive approach to be adopted. I shall try to make a positive suggestion: it is about time that the Welsh Office became a serious Department of policy making. We are referring to rural communities in Wales. I should prefer to describe it as the countryside of Wales or, in the predominant language of that countryside, as cefn gwlad. The countryside of Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Office in terms of policy. It is a territorial Department of State. The Welsh Office is the department for agriculture in Wales, for the environment and for the national parks, housing, social services, planning, overall economic oversight, trans-portation, tourism, education and training. The Development Board for Rural Wales is also answerable to the Welsh Office. Many more aspects of territorial policy are dealt with by the Welsh Office.

After a long and detailed study of all the circulars that have been produced by the Welsh Office, and after comparing them line by line and clause by clause with similar circulars produced by other Departments in London, there seems to be very little difference between them, apart from certain policy aspects relating to the Welsh language. The Welsh Office does not appear to have a distinctive policy-making function, yet it ought to have a positive strategy for dealing with the future of rural communities in Wales. The failure of the Welsh Office over adopting such a strategy has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), who said that the Welsh Office ought to be the agricultural department for Wales and should represent Wales directly in the European Community. The Welsh Office did not demand, as it should have done, an additional quota for Wales which would have prevented last year's milk industry crisis from which so many farmers are still suffering. I represent a sheepmeat area, and I welcome the achievements on sheepmeat, but it is essential to put on record the failure of the Welsh Office to represent Welsh interests directly in the European Community

. The Welsh Office ought to be able to make a departmental response to last year's report by the Countryside Commission relating to a better future for the uplands. In 1984 I had the opportunity to speak at the national parks conference in Llandudno. I referred in some detail to the report and its recommendations. Can the Secretary of State say what is happening inside the Whitehall machinery and Cathays Park about the report of the Countryside Commission? Is it being shelved? Is action being taken? Are the positive recommendations contained in the report being taken on board by the Government? Do the Government intend to respond fully to the report? In what way do they intend to respond to it?

The report is a serious attempt by the Countryside Commission to deal with the needs of the upland areas. The Countryside Commission's report recommends additional public investment in country areas in order to sustain upland communities, improve their quality of life, provide adequate levels of income and good employment opportunities. It also recommends the examination of ways in which economic development can be sustained. Another recommendation is that there should be an examination of ways in which capital can be invested in manufacturing and service industries, using European Community sources, where possible.

The report also considered the strengthening of the socio-economic advice of the agricultural department of the Welsh Office. It looked in particular at the need for additional housing investment in rural areas — at the need for the provision of low cost but well-designed accommodation in both the public and the private sectors to meet the needs of people living in upland areas. It also considered the need for the housing investment programmes of district councils with large rural areas to have increased allocations. That applies also to the allocations to housing associations. A series of recommendations in the report point to the need for additional public investment in rural areas. I should like to hear the full response of the Government to the most important study of the countryside that has been produced in recent years.

We have seen not the strengthening of the fabric of the countryside but its weakening by a process not only of centralisation which operates through market forces, with commercial enterprises usually situated in larger towns within rural areas, but of centralisation in the public sector — telecommunications, buses, gas and water. All of these utilities are now threatened by privatisation, or they have already been privatised by the Government. The result is centralisation. The Welsh water authority recently objected to the privatisation of its services. If that were to take place, there would no doubt be further centralisation of the water authority's services.

Local government has also been centralised, and the health districts operate in a centralised way. I have discussed recently with people in Gwynedd the health authority's proposal to remove ambulance cover from large parts of rural north-west and mid-Wales. There will be no 24-hour ambulance cover in an area stretching from Tywyn through to Corwen and nearly to Wrexham, from an area from above Llanrwst in Conwy valley at the top of my constituency right down to the Dyfi estuary. These proposals are a disaster in particular for the elderly who live in rural communities. They live in fear. They realise that if they are taken ill there will be no proper ambulance cover. It is time that the Welsh Office responded to the request from Gwynedd health authority, and ensured an adequate allocation for the ambulance service and that the £400,000 overspend by the Gwynedd ambulance service does not lead to a cut in the service.

Photo of Mr Keith Best Mr Keith Best , Ynys Môn

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have considerable sympathy for the view that he has just advanced about the ambulance service, but can he say whether the Welsh National party has any policies for rural Wales? If so, can he assure the House that there will be a Welsh National candidate in the Brecon and Radnor by-election, or is the Welsh National party so demoralised that it will not bother to put its policies before the electorate?

Photo of Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas Mr Dafydd Elis Thomas , Meirionnydd Nant Conwy

I do not intend to use this debate, as have other hon. Members, as a means of referring to any particular by-election. All I will say is that a candidate for Brecon and Radnor will be selected on Saturday.

As for the way in which Government policies have affected the fabric of the economic life of rural communities, I ought to say that I would not have given way to the hon. Gentleman if I had thought that he would not make a serious point about the ambulance services. It will be a lesson to me that the hon. Gentleman does not make serious points. As for the effects of the Government's policies in the commerical sector, there have been a large number of bankruptcies among small firms in Wales. This is the unacceptable face of Thatcherism. The number of bankruptcies notified to the courts has risen from just over 279 to nearly 600 in 1984. Many of these businesses were operating in the Welsh countryside.

There is a tendency for us to examine rural society— many speakers have contributed to that syndrome today —in terms of problems. I have to live part of my life in inner-city London, part in inner-city Cardiff, and the better part of it in the Conwy valley and the Wnion valley in the Snowdonia national park. My experience of the rural communities is that they have massive resources. In particular, there are economic resources that do not materialise because people do not have the entrepreneurial opportunities to make them do so. Therefore, I welcome the new emphasis in the Government's economic and education policies on training initiatives.

One should also appreciate the strong cultural and social resources of these rural communities and the extent to which they are communities of participation, and take part in deciding their future. One of the most exciting developments in recent years—I know that the Minister of State is aware of this and has supported it—is the development of the community enterprise initiatives in Powys, in the Tanat valley and other areas, and particularly in the valley in Dyfed that I know best, the Teifi valley. I pay tribute to the support that the Minister of State has given to the work of Antur Teifi with help from the development board and the local authority in Dyfed. Antur Teifi and the other community co-operatives represent the way forward for many of these smaller communities in rural Wales where economic enterprise can be developed on the basis of community collaboration and control.

I stress the need for rural communities to have the resources to plan for themselves rather than to be subjected to the structure planning of a central county council or a Welsh Office department. I pay tribute to the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales. I was fascinated to hear chapter 1—or was it chapter 6, or bits of both?— of the memoirs of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) and I look forward to hearing more revelations from the Welsh Office in due course.

I pay tribute to the work of the board and to some of its long-serving staff. In particular, I mention Mr. Peter Garbett Edwards, who served us in mid-Wales so well, nobly and efficiently over the years. He was involved with the Mid-Wales development association, then with the Mid-Wales development corporation and now with the board. The work of the board shows the need for a sensitive approach to rural development and I am particularly pleased that the board has now increased its support for co-operatives and social programmes.

I welcome British Rail's investment on the Cambrian line. If it were not for this ill-timed debate, I should have spent today on the sprinter train going from Machynlleth up the Cambrian coastline. That would be a much more enjoyable and better way to spend my time than sitting here. We welcome this investment on the Cambrian coast, and the Barmouth bridge investment.

However, what is the point of having the highest quality of train service for our rural lines if the highest quality of bus service is not there to connect with it? Taking away from local authorities the overall co-ordinating role in transport through the Transport Bill means there is a danger that such connecting services will not continue. When the Welsh Office looks at that Bill before it concludes its passage through the other place, I hope that it will examine the need for co-ordination on an all-Wales level for passenger transport services so that we do not lose, as a result of this legislation, the co-ordination of bus and train services.

Photo of Mr Keith Best Mr Keith Best , Ynys Môn 6:23 pm, 4th June 1985

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) and I have crossed swords on a number of occasions, I hope in a friendly way. I agree that it would be much more pleasent to be in rural Wales than standing here making a speech. I shall be brief because the House will want to listen to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan).

The Opposition have done a great disservice to the people of rural Wales by tabling this motion. Once again, they have painted a picture of doom and gloom without hope—a picture that is unrepresentative of what has been happening in rural Wales. No mention has been made of the science parks of Aberystwyth and Newton or of the factory building programme of 17,500 sq ft in 1983–84, to add to the 47,867 sq ft already built in the town of Llandrindod Wells. No reference was made to the financial support for the formation of a "heart of Wales" tourist association to promote specifically the tourist facilities and attractions of that part of Wales. No mention was made of the construction of two 3,000 sq ft advance factories at Rhayader. No mention was made of the five factories at Builth Wells.

To listen to Opposition Members, one would think that nothing has been happening in rural Wales. Remarkable by its absence was any reference to the total United Kingdom economy. There was no reference to the CBI report which shows that our export order books are at a record high for 25 years, that productivity has increased and that we have the highest rate of growth in western Europe. There was no reference to the facts that United Kingdom investment rose by 15 per cent. last year and that there is a new confidence in our economy at home and abroad.

There has been a sharp drop in net investment in overseas equities, to its lowest annual figure since the abolition of exchange controls in 1979. That has been because pension funds' and life assurance companies' net purchases of overseas shares fell to £590 million last year, compared to a peak of £2,840 million in 1982. Instead of going abroad, funds went largely into domestic equities and cash. Pension funds allocated 37 per cent. of their new money to net investment in United Kingdom companies' securities, compared to 23 per cent. in 1983. That is the measure of the confidence that the market has in our economy, but one would not believe that to hear the speeches from the Opposition Benches.

Wales has become the overseas investors' El Dorado. To obtain 25 per cent. of new jobs attributable to inward investment in the United Kingdom coming to Wales is not a good record for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and not a job well done. It is a superlative record and a herculean task to ensure, that so many new jobs are coming to Wales, in comparison to what is happening in the EEC.

We have a higher proportion of Japanese industry than any other comparable region in the EEC. The United States has a larger number of firms in Wales than in any other country. Second come the Germans. My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mr. Roberts), who has just come back from Germany, tells me that 35 factories in Wales have some German involvement, and I believe that his visit has been successful in drumming up further investment for Wales.

However, there is no room for complacency. I accept that, and one has to face the fact that a domestic economy that is doing well does not necessarily solve the problem of unemployment. That must concern us deeply in Wales.

We can stimulate more jobs in rural areas in three sectors. The first has been mentioned already. We need to promote Wales as a tourist centre far more, particularly abroad. Far too few visitors to Wales come from abroad. Secondly, we must continue the road building process. It is significant that not one Opposition Member mentioned the more than £400 million being spent on the dualling of the A55 carriageway, which will open up development prospects to north-west Wales in the same way that the M4 has opened up south Wales. There are also the bypass projects that I have been pressing for on the Isle of Anglesey.

To judge from their remarks about bus services, Opposition Members have never spoken to the private operators who are waiting in the wings ready to come in to provide the services that are so badly needed in Wales. It is not all gloom and doom in Wales — there is success. The people of Wales acknowledge that, even if the Opposition do not.

Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons 6:29 pm, 4th June 1985

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) referred to the beauties of his constituency and also to the inner resources that his constituents need. They certainly have them. Every rural community possesses resources perhaps to an even greater extent than urban areas and, my word, the rural communities need them at present. The strength is there. As to the beauties of his constituency, I was reminded of what Ruskin, or Carlyle, said, that there is only one thing more beautiful than the drive from Dolgellau to Barmouth, and that is the drive from Barmouth to Dolgellau. If we are going for the tourism that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) mentioned, we can do no better than inscribe that on our shields.

I wish to put one point to the Government. The Minister of State is such a delightful man that it is difficult to quarrel with him. Nevertheless, underneath that confident exterior today, in the almost brazen speech that he made, there must have lurked some elements of doubt. The market economy to which the Government are devoted applies in many areas, but it does not apply in the rural areas, least of all in agriculture. Therefore, there are residual responsibilities upon the Government. It is not sufficient for the Government to tell the rural communities that they have their inner strength in the great self-reliance upon which they have depended for many years. The Government have a responsibility to offer the rural communities, and especially the agricultural community, some advice and guidance. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, in a powerful speech, the rural communities, and the agricultural community in particular, are very uncertain about their future.

What guidance, if any, do the Government offer? They have a responsibility to offer that guidance precisely because the market economy does not operate in that field, precisely because the price for cereals is fixed, the price for milk is fixed, the price for beef is roughly fixed and the price for sheep is fixed. What do the Government advise the hill farmers and the small farmers of Wales to do when they themselves are partially responsible for fixing prices through the common agricultural policy?

We know that the income of the small farmer has been reduced as a result of the milk quota. What do the Government advise those who grow cereals to do? My right hon. and learned Friend said correctly that we in Wales are not as much affected by the cereals situation as the people in East Anglia are. Nevertheless, there is a growth of cereals in Wales. What is the advice? Should farmers grow more cereals? But the Government want us to grow fewer cereals. Do the Government believe that we should go over to quotas, or will they rely upon a price reduction? If the Government are in favour of going over to quotas, no farmers in Wales will grow fewer cereals, because, when the quota comes in, the farmers will find, as the dairy people found, that their quotas will be adversely affected because they have tried to diversify into beans or something else. What then is the Government's advice on that?

What do the Government advise those people in rural communities to do whose incomes have been reduced? Is the advice to substitute cereals for milk? Surely not. Is the advice to go for beef or for sheep, and then to find a market such as the present one, with over-production of cereals and of milk? If fewer cereals are to be grown and the milk quota is to be reduced, what are people supposed to do? Are they supposed to take the reduction in income and go into the bed and breakfast business, or try to get into some other field—and, if so, what?

The Government have some responsibility for this situation. If the market economy prevailed, then I would agree — let the weakest go to the wall, let the communities be wound up or rely on whatever it is they can find to do—but that is not the situation.

The Government say that they want to preserve the rural communities and to strengthen them, so what advice do they offer the small farmer whose milk quota has been reduced so that his income is smaller and who certainly ought not to be encouraged to go over to cereals, in view of the ensuing surplus? Is he supposed to accept the reduction in income? If not, what alternatives do the Government propose to preserve, to safeguard and to strengthen those rural communities?

Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones Shadow Secretary of State 6:34 pm, 4th June 1985

The House will await with interest the reply of the Secretary of State for Wales to the potent questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), the former Prime Minister.

The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) used the word herculean. He made a spirited defence of the policies of his right hon. Friend in recent years, but I should like to point out to him the herculean task that he and his right hon. Friend have with regard to unemployment in the largely rural county of Gwynedd. It amounts to 14,103, and male unemployment tops 21·5 per cent. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be listening hard to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for signs of change of policy and new job projects.

The Minister had a good story to tell on sheepmeat particularly, but I think that he greatly understated the agony of the small dairy farmers in Clwyd and in Dyfed. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) strongly emphasised the impact of Government policies on some of the more vulnerable aspects of agriculture in Wales.

I remind the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), who attacked my party, that it was the Labour Government under the premiership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth which legislated into existence the Development Board for Rural Wales and the Welsh Development Agency. Without these statutory bodies, Wales today would be an industrial desert and rural Wales would be without hope economically and socially. The Labour party, under my right hon. Friend's leadership, showed its imaginative interventionist care for rural Wales when it created the DBRW and the Welsh Development Agency. Unrestrained market forces would destroy the Welsh economy and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth implied, would annihilate rural Wales.

There are towns in rural Wales well distanced from the remaining industrial activity in Wales which have grave economic problems. I mention Pwllheli, Lampeter, Cardigan, Bangor and Caernarfon. They are united by the experience of suffering more than 22 per cent. male unemployment. Therefore, I believe that the Minister in his speech was complacent with regard to unemployment in the Principality and in the rural areas. The Government have not told us today of the Mid-Wales Development Board's apprehension at the designation of the west midlands as an assisted area or the Telford new town enterprise zone. In today's cut-throat competitive world, rural Wales may be paying a high price for the right hon. Gentleman's failure in 1982 to keep mid-Wales as an assisted area. Nor did the Minister tell us how Dyfed and Gwynedd rural counties will fare economically after the hammer blows of the BP Oil Ltd. and Courtaulds closure plans. New jobs are unlikely to pass westwards to Dyfed and Gwynedd when west Glamorgan and Clwyd are desperately trying to shore up their industrial economies.

The Minister of State did not explain why he has allowed the European Commission to exclude Powys from eligibility for social fund aid. Powys sees this as a gratuitous kick in the teeth, given that other counties of Wales, and the neighbouring counties of Hereford and Worcester, are eligible. Powys, I know, wants, with social fund aid, to bestow high-class modern skills training upon its younger citizens.

I listened with sadness to the Minister of State pronouncing what was in effect the death sentence for the skillcentres at Llanelli and west Gwent. It appears to me that the rural county of Dyfed will be deeply disappointed, as will west Gwent, on hearing the news that the Minister released today.

Right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned education. I do not think that any hon. Member would deny that the rural counties of Wales have distinguished themselves in the provision of high quality classroom education for many generations. But today there is an atmosphere of crisis—the administrators, teachers and parents are all exhibiting deep concern. Her Majesty's inspectorate report says that there is

a slow but persistent decline in the quality of the learning environment … a substantial backlog of work has built up for repairs… pupils learning experiences are impoverished as the replacement of worn and outdated stock is being postponed … the drab appearance of many buildings does little to enhance the learning of pupils in schools where pressure on resources has already led to some impoverishment of experience. Local education authorities in rural Wales are concerned. They have exhibited the most careful housekeeping in their budgets. Everyone in the education service in Wales knows that the widespread reductions in staffing are having an undesirable impact on the curriculum. Powys is a sad example—34 teaching posts are to be axed; the school meals service is under immense pressure; and it is proposed to raise the age of entry to nursery schools. In Powys as many as eight village schools are earmarked for closure in that very rural county. The system of targets and penalties is deeply injurious to the prospects of the most vulnerable of our pupils in the state sector in rural Wales.

Hon. Members have referred to the Transport Bill. It was a reflection of the deep concern felt throughout Wales. The Conservative proposals will crucify non-car owners in rural areas; their mobility will be drastically restricted. Bus users in outlying areas could be cut off if the Bill is enacted, not only from their employment and their social life, but from their recreational facilities.

Rural bus users could find that regular timetabled services disappear. Hon. Members are concerned about the potential decline in the safe maintenance of buses. The employees of the National Bus Company tell me that they are worried about their pension prospects and deeply concerned about potential redundancies. The Bill threatens to injure the quality of life in the more far-flung settlements of rural Wales. It can be summed up as a charter for less service and more costs.

I know that the Mid-Wales Development Board and the Welsh Women's Institute will have nothing to do with the Bill. They believe that it is a disaster. They have been highly critical of it from the start and have not lessened their criticisms as the Bill has progressed.

The Cabinet can best help rural Wales by a strategic change in economic policy. Specifically the Mid-Wales Development Board is entitled to a vote of confidence, it needs new, enhanced powers and it should be enabled to build even more advanced factories and science parks. It should have a guaranteed enlarged budget for several years ahead.

It is clear that the road links between south and north Wales must be considerably improved, and specifically the A483 and the A470 should be tackled. In the Mid-Wales heartland the A44 between Rhayader and Leominster must be upgraded as soon as possible.

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Secretary of State will fight to give eligibility to Powys in the EEC social fund. The Government should redouble their efforts for a larger social fund in the Community. Mid-Wales is desperately vulnerable because it is not an assisted area. Moreover, rural Wales will be vulnerable for as long as that territory lacks a strong regional policy. The right hon. Gentleman has presided over a weakening of regional policy in Wales. A strong regional policy would help us to hold on to some of our school leavers. My fear is that we shall lose able youngsters to Telford and the west midlands.

Local authorities could help the right hon. Gentleman create more work. What is needed for them to be effective is a freeing of the county and district authorities from the yolk of targets and penalties. To be without a job is a desperately demoralising experience. To be unemployed in our rural villages and towns is to know the true meaning of loneliness and isolation. Unemployment is gradually becoming a frightening reality in our country communities.

Government cuts in the public sector have vastly decreased job vacancies in the largest employers in rural areas—the local councils, the hospitals and the schools. The jobless move away permanently and the tightly knit family communities that comprise the heartland of Britain and Wales are torn apart. We believe that the quality of life must be improved for those living in our scattered rural counties. The Conservatives have cut the lifeline to our rural areas, and the way of living preserved for generations has suddenly come under threat. The Government are guilty of adopting a complacent attitude towards ruraĺ Wales.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Edwards Mr Nicholas Edwards , Pembroke 6:47 pm, 4th June 1985

In his concluding remarks, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) referred to a system of targets and GREs in local government finance. It is because we very much appreciate the problems of rural areas, especially those in Wales, that the targets and GREs for Powys and Gwynedd are the highest of any local authority in England and Wales. It is just one sign of the importance and priority that we attach to the particular problems that they face.

The motion and the Opposition's speeches accuse the Government of complacency, but have singularly failed to put forward positive proposals—as my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Harvey) pointed out in a devastating speech.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) spoke somewhat curiously about shaping the structure of society. He deplored the historic depopulation that has gone on for a century and a half. He seemed to be unaware that during the past decade the population in mid and rural Wales has been rising strongly. He was wrong to give the impression that it is simply a matter of old people retiring to the beauties of rural Wales. The fact is that over the same period the working age groups have grown in every county in Wales. That is hardly a sign of an area in a desperate state of decline.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd called for imaginative proposals. He did not put them forward himself, but he and the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) warned about the difficulties facing agriculture and the need to cut the surpluses of and expenditure on the system of agricultural support in Europe. I agree with a great deal of what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about future consumption trends that may affect agriculture. They both called for a White Paper.

It was perhaps the speech of the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), that showed not only the need for guidance but the need for taking time and for consultation before giving such guidance. In his very short contribution he spelled out a great many of the difficulties that confront us and agriculture. Whilst I agree with him about the need to map a way through these uncertainties, nothing would be more disastrous for agriculture than to draw that map without properly ascertaining the way forward. I and my Department have been spending much time in recent weeks and months talking to those in the industry and those concerned with it, and discussing these matters with everyone with expert knowledge.

I regard it as one of the highest priorities for my Department to devote much attention to what I regard as a central issue — the need to devise systems of agricultural support that support the rural areas and do not contain within them the seeds of their own destruction, as so many of our systems of support have in the past. I am consulting on these issues with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and with those who have responsibility for agriculture. I hope that we shall be able to come forward with some guidance. I would have wished that we might have from the Opposition a positive injection in the debate on these important matters.

The Liberal party's amendment represented a direct and outright by-election bid—"Vote for us, and we promise you a jolly ride on the gravy train." The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) was careful not to say who would pay. He said that he was against agricultural rating but, as I pointed out in an intervention, his friends in the SDP have made it clear that they believe that it is the farmers who should pay for all these goodies through the rating of farms and agricultural land. No doubt these contributions will be charmingly and politely explained to the electorate of Brecon and Radnor by the candidate who fought me in 1979 and who achieved the lowest vote for the Liberal party in my constituency for over 100 years.

The entry of young people into agriculture was referred to by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North. He will know that the Northfield committee came out against the introduction of grants or subsidised loans for young farmers. We have made it easier for young farmers to enter the industry via smallholdings and by security of tenure changes for agricultural holdings. These will help to make holdings available for letting, encouraging smallholding tenants to move on. The Agricultural Holdings Act 1984 also introduced compulsory retirement at 65 for smallholding tenants, as recommended by the Northfield committee. We are currently revising the capital grants scheme. One proposal under consideration is the best way to help young entrants.

Nowhere was the extraordinary paucity of ideas from the Opposition more strikingly illustrated than in what they had to say about transport. We were reminded by my hon. Friend the Minister of State how in 1977 the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) presided over a conference in Aberystwyth at which he said:

We have all watched with growing concern, particularly in recent years, a steady decline in rural transport services". Later he said:

We still have to face the fact, however, that there are many areas in which conventional services would be an expensive luxury. It is not good economic sense to run ordinary buses on routes when passenger loadings are in twos and threes; and where the terrain makes such operations physically difficult anyway. Of course, the Labour party did nothing about that, and the decline that he described has gone on since. It is illustrated in the Mid-Glamorgan public transport plan and by the announcement that there may have to be a closure of the National Bus Company facilities in my constituency. The Opposition have failed to face up to the fact that the decline has been going on and that it is this Government who are bringing forward proposals to give the opportunity for new services to be introduced.

During the debate there has been a good deal of emphasis on the need for improved access to the rural areas of Wales. Certainly this Government have carried out a massive improvement of the road imfrastructure in Wales. When I look back at the threats that hung over the railway lines of Wales when we came into office, it is extraordinary to consider the positition as it is today. My hon. Friend the Member for Clywyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) spoke of wild rumours about closing railway lines. Of course, they are wild and wholly false. The reality is established by what has been happening to the central Wales, the mid-Wales and the Cambrian coast lines. A sustained effort involving local authorities, Mid-Wales Development, the Wales tourist board, the Welsh Office and British Rail, involving more than £5 million of investment by British Rail, has given those railway lines a security that they have not had for many years.

The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon asked about the relative support for the national tourist boards in England, Scotland and Wales. When I got the information it came as a pleasant surprise because I had not realised how relatively well we were doing in Wales. We have total expenditure by the Wales tourist board in grant in-aid and projects in 1985–86 of over £7 million. In relation to our population that compares very well with the expenditure by the Scottish tourist board of £8·8 million and of the expenditure by the English tourist board of £16·7 million. The improvement in the level of expenditure by Wales tourist board over the last few years also compares favourably with expenditure in the other countries.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conway (Mr. Thomas) asked about the Government's response to the Countryside Commission's report on the uplands. 1 know the hon. Member takes a great interest in these matters. No doubt it was because he has so much research going on that he overlooked the fact that the Government printed their response on 31 January. If he looks for it, I am sure he will find it and be able to read it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, North-West referred to the importance of rural post offices. I must emphasise that the closures that are taking place are of urban post offices that are within about a mile of other post offices. The position is different in rural areas and the Post Office has given assurances that the rural network will be maintained.

My hon. Friend also asked about consideration given to proposals made by education authorities to close rural schools. In considering the balance of educational advantage we are concerned about the ability of the school to deliver a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum, but we also take account of distance and travelling time. I made it clear that I sympathise with those who believe that village schools have an important contribution to make to the community, although that has to be balanced against the need to devote adequate resources to the education of children generally and to provide the quality that we need. We have launched the new initiatives that my hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned because we attach importance to those matters.

The hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Merionnydd Nant Conwy mentioned the recent action taken by the European Commission to exclude Powys from access to the social fund. We have already made strong representations to the Commission, and the Government are now taking the matter up at ministerial level. It is a mistaken and misguided action with which we disagree.

It is absurd to accuse the Government of complacency over the problems facing farming. Milk producers face a difficult period of adjustment. No one who represents Pembrokeshire could have any doubt about that, but the Opposition should be honest. They have been calling for savings in the common agricultural policy and they have been criticising surpluses, but it is idle to pretend that change can be achieved without discomfort and hardship. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) voted against the legislation that established the outgoers scheme which is now the lifeline for more than half the Welsh milk producers.

The vigorous fight that the Government have put up to ensure the future of the beef premium scheme and the sheepmeat regime has been mentioned. I remind the House that it was this Government who introduced the sheepmeat regime in October 1980. It has been the bedrock upon which the industry's prosperity has been established. It was this Government who extended the less-favoured areas and gave an additional 400,000 hectares of coverage within Wales so that 80 per cent. of the agricultural area of Wales is now covered. Hill livestock compensatory allowances are expected to be claimed by 15,000 farmers —a 50 per cent. increase—and enhanced rates of grant are now available to about 9,000 extra farmers.

It was ironic to hear the remarks made by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside about employment in a week during which Laura Ashley has announced that it is proposing to move its headquarters accounts and personnel departments to mid-Wales, and that it is involved in a massive extension which will provide over 500 new jobs. It is also ironic at a time when Shotton Paper has given the biggest boost in modern times to employment in forestry in Wales, and when we are announcing a massive extension of training facilities in Wales.

The Government are accused of complacency by a party that lives in the past, that fails to recognise the certainty of change or its desirability, but clings tenaciously to the ideas, prejudices and myths of the past and seeks to prevent and obstruct the road to progress in every way that it can.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes, 160, Noes 267.

Division No. 225][7.03 pm
AYES
Abse, LeoEwing, Harry
Anderson, DonaldFaulds, Andrew
Ashdown, PaddyFields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)
Ashley, Rt Hon JackFoot, Rt Hon Michael
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Forrester, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Foster, Derek
Barnett, GuyFoulkes, George
Barron, KevinFraser, J. (Norwood)
Beckett, Mrs MargaretFreud, Clement
Beith, A. J.Garrett, W. E.
Bell, StuartGeorge, Bruce
Benn, TonyGodman, Dr Norman
Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)Gould, Bryan
Bermingham, GeraldGourlay, Harry
Bidwell, SydneyHamilton, James (M well N)
Blair, AnthonyHamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)
Bray, Dr JeremyHardy, Peter
Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Brown, R. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne N)Haynes, Frank
Caborn, RichardHeffer, Eric S.
Callaghan, Rt Hon JHogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)Holland, Stuart (Vauxhall)
Campbell, IanHome Robertson, John
Campbell-Savours, DaleHowell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Canavan, DennisHowells, Geraint
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)Hughes, Dr. Mark (Durham)
Cartwright, JohnHughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)Hughes, Roy (Newport East)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Cohen, HarryJenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Hillh'd)
Coleman, DonaldJohn, Brynmor
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Conlan, BernardKaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)Kennedy, Charles
Corbyn, JeremyKilroy-Silk, Robert
Cowans, HarryKinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Cox, Thomas (Tooting)Kirkwood, Archy
Craigen, J. M. Lambie, David
Crowther, StanLamond, James
Cunningham, Dr JohnLeadbitter, Ted
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)Lewis, Terence (Worsley)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)Litherland, Robert
Dormand, JackLofthouse, Geoffrey
Dubs, AlfredLoyden, Edward
Duffy, A. E. P. McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.McGuire, Michael
Eadie, AlexMcKay, Allen (Penistone)
Eastham, KenMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)McWilliam, John
Ellis, RaymondMadden, Maxv
Evans, John (St. Helens N)Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Martin, MichaelShore, Rt Hon Peter
Maxton, JohnShort, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Maynard, Miss JoanSkinner, Dennis
Meacher, MichaelSoley, Clive
Meadowcroft, MichaelSpearing, Nigel
Michie, WilliamSteel, Rt Hon David
Millan, Rt Hon BruceStott, Roger
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Oakes, Rt Hon GordonThome, Stan (Preston)
O'Brien, WilliamTinn, James
Parry, RobertTorney, Tom
Pavitt, LaurieWallace, James
Pendry, TomWardell, Gareth (Gower)
Penhaligon, DavidWareing, Robert
Pike, PeterWeetch, Ken
Prescott, JohnWelsh, Michael
Radice, GilesWhite, James
Randall, StuartWigley, Dafydd
Rees, Rt Hon M. (Leeds S)Williams, Rt Hon A.
Richardson, Ms JoWinnick, David
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)Wrigglesworth, Ian
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rogers, Allan
Rowlands, TedTellers for the Ayes:
Ryman, JohnMr. Ray Powell and
Sheerman, BarryDr. Roger Thomas
NOES
Adley, RobertEmery, Sir Peter
Alison, Rt Hon MichaelFairbairn, Nicholas
Amery, Rt Hon JulianFallon, Michael
Ancram, MichaelFavell, Anthony
Ashby, DavidFenner, Mrs Peggy
Aspinwall, JackFinsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)Fletcher, Alexander
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)Fookes, Miss Janet
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Forman, Nigel
Batiste, SpencerForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Bellingham, HenryForth, Eric
Best, KeithFowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bevan, David GilroyFox, Marcus
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFranks, Cecil
Biggs-Davison, Sir JohnFraser, Peter (Angus East)
Blackburn, JohnFreeman, Roger
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFry, Peter
Body, RichardGale, Roger
Boscawen, Hon RobertGalley, Roy
Bottomley, PeterGardiner, George (Reigate)
Brandon-Bravo, MartinGarel-Jones, Tristan
Bright, GrahamGilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)Glyn, Dr Alan
Bruinvels, PeterGoodhart, Sir Philip
Buck, Sir AntonyGoodlad, Alastair
Burt, AlistairGorst, John
Butcher, JohnGow, Ian
Butterfill, JohnGower, Sir Raymond
Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln)Grant, Sir Anthony
Carttiss, MichaelGreenway, Harry
Cash, William(Portsm'th N)Gregory, Conal
Chalker, Mrs LyndaGriffiths, Peter (portsm in N)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulGrist, Ian
Chope, ChristopherGrylls, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)Gummer, John Selwyn
Clegg, Sir WalterHamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Cockeram, EricHamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Colvin, MichaelHampson, Dr Keith
Conway, DerekHanley, Jeremy
Coombs, SimonHannam, John
Cope, JohnHargreaves, Kenneth
Cormack, PatrickHarris, David
Critchley, JulianHarvey, Robert
Crouch, DavidHaselhurst, Alan
Dickens, GeoffreyHavers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Dorrell, StephenHawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.Hawksley, Warren
Dover, DenHayward, Robert
Durant, TonyHeathcoat-Amory, David
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)Henderson, Barry
Hicks, RobertPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hind, KennethPercival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Hirst, MichaelPollock, Alexander
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Porter, Barry
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)Portillo, Michael
Holt, RichardPowell, William (Corby)
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)Powley, John
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)Price, Sir David
Hubbard-Miles, PeterPrior, Rt Hon James
Hunt, David (Wirral)Proctor, K. Harvey
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Hunter, AndrewRaffan, Keith
Jenkin, Rt Hon PatrickRaison, Rt Hon Timothy
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyRathbone, Tim
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRees, Rt Hon Peter (Dover)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs ElaineRhodes James, Robert
Kershaw, Sir AnthonyRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Key, RobertRidley, Rt Hon Nicholas
King, Roger (B'ham N'field)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
King, Rt Hon TomRoberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knight, Gregory (Derby N)Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)Roe, Mrs Marion
Knowles, MichaelRowe, Andrew
Knox, DavidRumbold, Mrs Angela
Lamont, NormanSainsbury, Hon Timothy
Lang, IanSayeed, Jonathan
Latham, MichaelShaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Lawler, GeoffreyShelton, William (Streatham)
Lawrence, IvanShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lester, JimShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lewis, Sir Kenneth (Stamf'd)Shersby, Michael
Lightbown, DavidSilvester, Fred
Lilley, PeterSims, Roger
Lloyd, Ian (Havant)Skeet, T. H. H.
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, MichaelSpeller, Tony
Luce, RichardSpencer, Derek
Lyell, NicholasSpicer, Jim (W Dorset)
McCrindle, RobertSquire, Robin
McCurley, Mrs AnnaStanbrook, Ivor
Macfarlane, NeilSteen, Anthony
MacGregor, JohnStern, Michael
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Maclean, David JohnStewart, Allan (Eastwood)
McQuarrie, AlbertStewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Major, JohnStewart, Ian (N Hertf'dshire)
Malins, HumfreyStokes, John
Maples, JohnStradling Thomas, J.
Mather, CarolSumberg, David
Maude, Hon FrancisTaylor, John (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Dr BrianTaylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinTemple-Morris, Peter
Mayhew, Sir PatrickTerlezki, Stefan
Merchant, PiersThomas, Rt Hon Peter
Meyer, Sir AnthonyThompson, Donald (Calder V)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Mills, lain (Meriden) Thornton, Malcolm
Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, David (NW Hants)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Moate, RogerTracey, Richard
Montgomery, Sir FergusTrippier, David
Moore, JohnTrotter, Neville
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)Twinn, Dr Ian
Moynihan, Hon C. van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Murphy, ChristopherVaughan, Sir Gerard
Neale, GerrardWaddington, David
Needham, RichardWakeham, Rt Hon John
Nelson, AnthonyWalden, George
Newton, TonyWalker, Bill (T'side N)
Nicholls, PatrickWaller, Gary
Norris, StevenWalters, Dennis
Onslow, CranleyWard, John
Oppenheim, PhillipWardle, C. (Bexhill)
Page, Sir John (Harrow W)Watson, John
Page, Richard (Herts SW)Watts, John
Parris, MatthewWells, Bowen (Hertford)
Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abdgn)Wells, Sir John (Maidsione)
Pawsey, JamesWheeler, John
Whitney, RaymondYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Winterton, NicholasTellers for the Noes:
Wolfson, MarkMr. Michael Neubert and
Wood, TimothyMr. Mark Lennox-Boyd.
Yeo, Tim

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 33 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House recognises the difficulties faced by the farming industry and by rural communities in a period of change, but welcomes the reversal of the long period of depopulation in much of rural Wales, and supports the continued efforts of the Government to improve the services provided and to develop employment opportunities in the countryside.