Legislative Programme and Pre-Budget Statement

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Mr. Flynn: Even in rural areas, only about 9 per cent. of people work in farming. Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that changing to organic farming and to non-food production, or going out of farming, increases the number of people employed in the countryside? A typical farm in the hon. Gentleman's constituency might consist of several hundred acres and employ one or two people. Changing and modernising farming will greatly increase the prosperity of rural areas and the number of people employed there.

Mr. Öpik: What the hon. Gentleman suggests for organic farming and diversification is not inconsistent with making changes gradually and with making a strategic commitment to maintain a working population in the countryside. The size of the average farm is smaller than the hon. Gentleman believes. A much higher proportion of people in rural Wales depend directly or indirectly on the turnover generated by agriculture. Hon. Members with rural constituencies know that that is the case; they know, too, the knock-on effect that the agricultural crisis has had on towns, new towns and communities in Brecon and elsewhere that are heavily dependent on the turnover from farms—the hon. Member for Ceredigion nods—but do not employ farmers primarily.

We are disappointed that there is not more in the Queen's Speech for farmers. The most high-profile element of rural policy relates to fox hunting. It is disappointing that so much time that could be spent discussing serious social, cultural and economic matters in the countryside has been put aside for a peripheral issue.

Much has been said about fuel taxation, but the inequity of a fuel price gradient that goes up as one moves from the city to the countryside has not been mentioned. In simple terms, without using jargon, that means that the cost of filling up the petrol tank is highest in the places where private transport is most needed. That cannot be right. The Government have done nothing to tackle the fact that it is cheaper to fill up a car in the centre of a city than it is in rural areas.

Mr. Hanson: What is the answer?

Mr. Öpik: With today's technology and a modicum of planning, the fuel taxes could be altered so that prices go down as one moves towards the rural areas. That has been done elsewhere, and it is not expensive in terms of Government revenue. The Government may find different ways to achieve that aim; all four parties could have a useful debate about the mechanics of such a scheme.

There does not seem to be a strategic commitment to tackling the fuel price gradient. The Government have not yet stated that it would be fairer if fuel cost less in rural areas than in the city. Private transport is often the most environmentally friendly way to move around the countryside. I hope that the Minister will say whether the Government are willing to consider lobbying for a strategic approach to the duty on fuel prices—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Jones, Mr. Barry (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Anderson, Mr. Donald
Clwyd, Ann
Davies, Mr. Denzil
Edwards, Mr.
Evans, Mr.
Flynn, Mr.
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Hanson, Mr.
Jones, Mr. Ieuan Wyn
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Livsey, Mr.
Llwyd, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
Morgan, Ms Julie
Murphy, Mr. Paul
Öpik, Mr.
Rogers, Mr. Allan
Ruane, Mr.
Smith, Mr. John
Thomas, Mr. Simon
Touhig, Mr.
Walter, Mr.
Wigley, Mr.

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