|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lucas: Perhaps I was mistaken. Noble Lords have raised many different aspects of the Welsh economy. I shall be able to address but a few of them in the time available. I am particularly aware that I shall have to write letters to the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Geraint, and perhaps others too. I shall look through Hansard tomorrow.
I turn first to the subject of rural Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, said so accurately, this is central to the whole future of the Welsh nation. We shall shortly be publishing a rural White Paper for Wales. I could go into great detail of what it contains but I think I should get into difficulty with my Secretary of State if I did. I shall confine myself to the broad principles. The first is to ensure that rural Wales remains rural and keeps its identity. We do not want to change it from what it is. We do not want to destroy it. We want to ensure that whatever changes or improvements come about they do not do so at the cost of what is there now. The Government are committed to promote conservation and to preserve our natural heritage. The role of the Countryside Council for Wales is being enhanced. Its budget for 1996-97 has been increased by 24 per cent. I hope that that is welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. We are committed to providing positive support to rural communities. The quality of life in a rural community is of paramount concern to us. We intend to place emphasis on such areas as housing, rural health, village shops and schools.
I hope that it will please the noble Lord, Lord Williams, and many others who have spoken that we support and value farming as a foundation for rural life and the environment. We shall be embarking on, and continuing, a number of initiatives to support the Welsh farmer in developing the specialist market for Welsh foods and we shall follow through the farming families initiative.
Although CAP reform is eventually on the cards and is something to which all parties in this House are committed, I believe we all recognise that hill farms will continue to need, and deserve, our support. We intend to support new employment through initiatives in such areas as planning, IT and, most importantly, education and training. Perhaps the most crucial need is for more people to live and work in rural Wales. As my noble friend Lord Harlech said, the force for that may be the telecommunications revolution. As it becomes as easy to do a job from a house in west Wales as from a flat in Battersea, noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that more people are choosing west Wales.
Perhaps I may allow myself my one piece of party politics. In telecommunications we are doing what the Labour Party has only dreamt of. That party's plans, announced at the 1995 party conference, were well described by Wired magazine:
If ever the time should come, the deal will be completely unnecessary because we have already put in place most of what the Labour Party says it wishes to do. Half of all Welsh schools will be on the Internet by 1998. Every secondary school in Wales has satellite equipment. South Wales is being connected to cable television at a great pace. The strategic development scheme is bringing the information highway to rural Wales and the WDA is putting a great deal of effort into teleworking and bringing to Wales the kind of jobs that can be accessed through Internet and communications. Wales already boasts the largest concentration of such businesses in the UK.
Inward investment has been one of the great Welsh success stories over the past 15 years. Since 1983, over 1,000 projects have been recorded with capital investment of about £7 billion, safeguarding or creating about 100,000 jobs. This success is bringing new industries not just to the industrial heartlands of Wales but to many rural areas as well. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, will be pleased at my assurance that the Welsh Development Agency will always look for people capable of making such investments in rural Wales and will pursue them with particular vigour.
The noble Baroness, Lady White, was supportive of our efforts in research and development. We agree that that is a crucial aspect of any strong economy. Research and development is where future jobs in an economy come from. It may seem expensive now, but research and development repays itself many times long into the future. We are supporting many young and innovative companies, particularly in South Wales.
Native talent has not been idle either. The performance of indigenous companies is crucial to the success of Wales. The training and enterprise councils in Wales support an average of 2,000 new business start-ups each year. It is vital that these new firms receive the support and help they need to prosper and grow. The launch earlier this month of the business connect scheme provides exactly the sort of comprehensive and accessible system that busy people need. The new arrangements take the hassle out of the quest for advice over a whole range of activity. With only one telephone call a network of advice will be available to businesses.
My noble friend Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, mentioned education. I do not want to stray too far into that subject today--it is a debate on its own--except to say that I agree with all the concerns expressed. We have seen great improvements over the past 20 years; they are well known to everyone. Equally, everyone realises that we need to continue those improvements and do the same
Praise was lavished on various government agencies. I was pleased to hear that from the other side of the House. My noble friends Lord St. Davids and Lord Griffiths and the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, and others praised the Welsh Development Agency, a creation of the Benches opposite which has been lovingly cared for by this side of the House as well. Since 1979 it has provided over 17 million square feet of factory space and has spent in excess of £780 million on property development activities. It has a solid foundation of success on which to build. It will continue to develop its role as an enabler rather than as a direct provider, concentrating its effort on filling gaps in the market. It will also continue to play a central role in the promotion of inward investment and, through its capital programmes, will support local authorities' strategic development plans.
A number of other agencies have achieved notable successes. The Cardiff Bay Development Corporation has been mentioned. I do not want to go into the question of the opera house. I am a great fan of Welsh Opera. As part of its tour it visits Southampton which is close to where I live. I am also a great fan of Welsh rugby--except perhaps next Saturday. I do not wish to try to judge between the rival claims on the Millennium Commission.
The Development Board for Rural Wales was praised by the noble Lord, Lord Geraint. Other agencies and partnerships were mentioned. My noble friend Lord Aberdare mentioned the Cynon Valley business partnership. I believe that between them the multifarious agencies of national and local government and the local partnerships between them and industry have been one of the great successes of the Welsh economy and one of the reasons why that economy has shown such good performance over the past 20 years.
Tourism is one of the main industries of Wales. It is an old industry which now accounts for 9 per cent. of the Welsh labour force. It is a growing industry but not at any great speed. It is growing at about 5 per cent. a year. However, for a long time it will be one of the foundations of the Welsh economy. My noble friend Lord St. Davids says that it needs fresh emphasis and has to go up market. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, says that its activities are seasonable; perhaps that illustrates one of its main problems.
The Wales Tourist Board and the Government will continue to give the tourist industry all the support that they can. The 1999 Rugby World Cup will obviously be a major tourism opportunity, but it is even more importantly one of the best opportunities that we shall get for promoting Wales's image. In the light of that unrivalled opportunity, the Wales Tourist Board has launched a major new £2.5 million marketing campaign to promote the image of Wales, and its budget has been increased by more than 30 per cent. over the past five years.
I do not want to stray into the areas of disagreement on economic policy which exist between us and the parties opposite. They are well known and would be out of place in a debate which has shown how much we all value Wales as part of Great Britain and how much we all share in the celebration of its economic success and hope that that will be continued for many years to come.
Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, I never cease to be amazed at how diverse in debate my fellow countrymen can be on a single subject. Tonight's debate has much of importance for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to ponder. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lucas will ensure that a copy of Hansard will follow him home for the weekend.
It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; the noble Baroness, Lady White, for promising me another Christmas so soon after the last; and my noble friend Lord Lucas for winding up a debate which may, at times, have seemed strangely foreign to him. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.