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16 Oct 2002 : Column 413continued
Mr. Pickthall: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether there is anything that Mr. Speaker's good offices could do to prevent a disgraceful situation whereby the amount of time available to Back-Bench Members is likely to be reduced to about 20 minutes if we are lucky?
I intend to speak about the rural economy and public services in rural areas. Many measures are used to establish how well an economy is going and to prove a point one way or the other. In my judgment, one of the best measures has always been that of how many people are in work. If the economy is going well, people have jobs. When it is not, unfortunately people do not have jobs. I represent one of the largest rural constituencies in England. Since Labour came to power, we have enjoyed a 41 per cent. fall in unemployment. That has taken the unemployment level down to 3 per cent. We are very pleased about that, of course.
The Opposition, in moving the motion, are commenting on the state of the rural economy. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), unemployment has fallen by 49 per cent. since Labour came to power. In the constituency of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings
The motion refers to difficulties in agriculture that are real and ongoing. The hon. Member for Aylesbury fairly said in his opening remarks that they cannot all be put at the feet of the present or any other Government. But rural economies, like all economies, are dynamic. They must adapt and change to respond to different circumstances. I am pleased that in my constituency many of those involved in agriculture have diversified, modernised and considered other ways to run a business in their locality, and have since been successful.
Reference has been made to the Curry report, XThe Future of Farming", which, broadly speaking, has received a good welcome throughout the House. There has been some talk about the funding that will come on board. However, it is worth bearing in mind the fact that many funding streams are already available for those in the rural sector. Only the other month, I was at Moore's farm, one of the largest farms in the south part of the Isle of Axholme in my constituency, opening its new plant and modernised equipment, which had in part been paid for through grant aid given by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I know that that support was well received.
Councils can make a difference through their support. North Lincolnshire council, which serves the south part of my constituency, was successful in obtaining single regeneration budget fundingunder SRB6. As a suggestion, which came in part from the local National Farmers Union, the council decided to put some of that money into the rural area represented by it to help people in agriculture who needed to diversify into other parts of business. That, plus the rate relief on rural businesses that the Government introduced, has made a real difference.
I make that point for two reasons. First, it is a success story in a rural area. Secondly, the same NFU made the same offer to the neighbouring council, which also had SRB money. That is a Tory council, North Lincolnshire being Labour. The Tory council refused the offer. Yet the Tories talk about problems in the rural economy. The money was available, the possibility was there, and the NFU was making the offer, but West Lindsey council said no. I say that because the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) made a short intervention earlier. He is no longer in his place, but I know that he will welcome the fact that unemployment has fallen by 35 per cent. in his constituency since Labour came to power.
It was helpful for many rural areas when the Government came to reassess the regional map to ascertain where we could tap into European funding. We broke down the areas that could be eligible. I represent Goole, which is not a rural area, but which has great deprivation problems. It could never get on to the map because it was surrounded by affluence. However,
Mention has been made of regional development agencies. The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) referred to the metropolitan areas of Yorkshire and Humberside. He, too, has left the Chamber. No doubt he will welcome the fact that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by 49 per cent. since Labour came to power.
The right hon. Gentleman said that North Yorkshire was the only metropolitan area in Yorkshire and Humberside. I do not think that people in the East Riding of Yorkshire consider themselves metropolitan at all but they have managed to get significant funding through the regional development agency. They have also managed, through a local inquiry, to ensure that 200 acres of former agricultural land has been converted for industrial use to exploit the natural advantages of the area. The American company, Guardian, is building a large glass factory there that will employ hundreds of people, so I look forward to the 3 per cent. unemployment rate in my constituency falling still further. That will be an achievement due in part to what the Government have done.
Another successful scheme is the market towns initiative in Brigg. I am pleased that the Countryside Agency chose Brigg marketplace to advertise the market towns initiative in one of the excellent little newspapers that it sends us all from time to time. The picture showed my constituency office but the article did not state where it was, so I was a little disappointed at that, but in general terms it was nice to see Brigg being advertised in that way.
Matthew Green (Ludlow): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Government often promote the market towns initiative as providing #1 million per market town? In reality, the maximum is #300,000, and it is dependent on an awful lot of matched funding coming in from various sources. A couple of towns in my constituency have been granted market town initiative status, and I am glad of that, but the promotion gave the impression that they would get #1 million of public money. The reality is far from that.
Mr. Cawsey: I am grateful for that intervention. I never thought that my town would get #1 million, and I have never heard that before. If there is such a misapprehension, I am sure that the Minister would want to pick it up. I stress that the initiative in my constituency was never advertised as providing #1 million for the town. Nevertheless, it was good news. There is much to be done in the rural economy, but people sometimes try to pretend that it is all wrong, when there are good things as well.
I shall comment briefly on public services. I served as a county councillor for seven years and as leader of North Lincolnshire council for two years before coming to the House. There has always been the challenge of delivering public services in sparsely populated areas
North Lincolnshire council was a Labour council, and still is. It obviously was while I was leader. At the time when we proposed the local links scheme, the Conservatives on the council voted against it. They opposed it. They voted to keep all the council services in Scunthorpe, the major town of the area, and did not want anything to do with local links at all. We must ask ourselves who is talking about getting services into the countrysidethe Labour party or the Conservative party?
On rural schools, so many classrooms have been built in my constituency since 1997 that I could bore the House endlessly with them. Let me tell the House about Alkborough, a lovely village. When we came to power, the school in Alkborough still had an outside toilet. Not only did we get rid of that very quickly, but we built two new classrooms in order to meet the class size pledge. When I went to the opening of those, there was a new foundation stone showing the year 2000, next to the one for the original building, which was from 1870-something. The head teacher at the time, Austin Holden, said, XWe have these two foundation stones with 130 years between them, and no Government spent any money between those two dates, until this Government came along."