Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his courteous and full reply. I also thank my noble and philistine friend, Lord Stanley of Alderley, and the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, for their contributions. These are complicated matters. Like the Minister, I should like to read Hansard more fully tomorrow before deciding whether to take these matters any further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 14 [Welsh Development Agency: other amendments]:

[Amendment No. 222 not moved.]

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 223:

Page 145, line 20, at end insert--
("( ) In section 2(3) (membership of agency) after "local government" insert "agriculture, rural development".").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I moved a similar amendment in Committee to provide that the Welsh Development Agency could--not "shall", which I think is where we went adrift before--have a member who has experience in agriculture and rural development. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, said in reply that my amendment would force the Welsh Development Agency to have on its board at least one member with expertise in rural affairs. I hope the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not believe that this amendment would do any such thing. It would merely

9 Jul 1998 : Column 1471

add to those already mentioned in the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975. It is stated in the constitution and status in Section 2(3):

    "The members of the Agency shall include persons who appear to the Secretary of State to have wide experience of, and to have shown capacity in, one or more of the following, namely, industry, commerce, banking, accountancy, finance, the organisation or representation of workers, administration, local government and matters relating to the environment".
My amendment merely adds the words "agriculture, rural development". Therefore it does not force the Minister to have such a person; it merely allows him to come into that category.

I feel that this is a modest request. As Wales has such a rural character, such a person should be considered as a representative on the Welsh Development Agency. I beg to move.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I rise to support the thrust of my noble friend's amendment in support of agriculture and rural development. In particular, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to two documents. The first is Pathway to Prosperity, already published by the Government this week; the other is a paper prepared by Peter Medmore, Professor of Rural Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, The farming crisis and its effect on Wales. That paper draws a grim picture of the plight of the Welsh rural economy as a consequence of the sharp fall in farming incomes. It goes on to refer to a predicted loss of some 5,000 jobs as a result of agricultural decline over the coming decade. One paragraph of the professor's paper is significant. It reads:

    "Besides the immediate economic implications, further consequences arise in terms of social infrastructure. Losses of population through migration, which will be heightened as a result of the initial losses of income and jobs, eventually reduce the current grant to local authorities by central government. These changes, together with other private services dependent on rural spending, will reduce the quality of life in rural areas, for instance, making it difficult to support small country schools, contributing to the so-called cycle of cumulative causation that keeps rural economies in a state of underdevelopment".
All that supports what my noble friend has been saying throughout the course of this evening. The noble Lord, Lord Williams--the spectre of rural depopulation--appears to be with us once again, a spectre we had hoped to have exorcized in Wales.

The point is that there is no real recognition of the gravity of the situation in the Government's paper, Pathway to Prosperity. On page 27 there is a section headed, "Action for rural Wales"; but what does that amount to? A Welsh Office junior Minister is apparently to,

    "chair a new Rural Partnership for Wales, with a remit embracing the broad sweep of economic, social, environmental and cultural issues of concern in rural communities. Supported by a new all-Wales rural unit in the enhanced WDA, the partnership will examine and prepare options for a rural strategy for Wales as a basis for consideration by the National Assembly. It will also move forward specific proposals to promote the rural economy and to help deal with current problems as and when they arise".

9 Jul 1998 : Column 1472

They do not tell us what the proposals are to deal with these current problems, which of their nature are already with us and likely to get worse by the time the assembly is established. That is one of the reasons why the regional committees are so important. They will bring pressure to bear on the assembly and the Welsh Development Agency to act urgently to try to safeguard the rural areas. I hope that it will not be too late and that it will not be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. One step that could be taken is to ensure that there is rather more agricultural and rural representation and thrust in the development agency itself and in its membership.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I think all parties are concerned about the threat to the heartland of rural Wales by the current agricultural crisis that has been so well documented in the publications to which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, referred a moment ago.

With the demise of the Development Board for Rural Wales, and its functions being transferred to the Welsh Development Agency, it seems to me that it is only common sense that there should be a representative, an advocate upon that board as a member of it. If such a member, representing agriculture and rural development, can be as effective an advocate as the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, has been in the course of this and other debates, then I am quite sure that the interests of the heartland of Wales will be maintained. I support the amendment.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as I said earlier in the course of the debate on Report, the Government fully recognise the needs of rural Wales, that they are undoubtedly important and that they should be addressed by the Welsh Development Agency.

I would love to get into the debate about the rural economy as a whole, but your Lordships will forgive me for not being tempted down that path because I believe that the appropriate course is to address the particular amendment with which we are concerned just now; namely, Amendment No. 223.

The present situation in relation to appointments of board members of the Welsh Development Agency is that the Secretary of State is required to appoint board members with a broad range of experience, and that includes industry which, of course, covers agriculture as well as matters relating to the environment, which clearly can include rural development. It would be a brave person indeed, particularly any one of your Lordships who has heard the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, in relation to the nature of agriculture and the business nature of agriculture, who would argue that agriculture should not be regarded as an industry. Thus, the very expertise, which the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, is seeking to specify, is already covered in the Bill as it is drafted.

Furthermore, the House will be aware of the Secretary of State's intention to make appointments to the new WDA board through fair and open competition, having placed public advertisements seeking people from all

9 Jul 1998 : Column 1473

walks of life to apply for appointment. I am told that over 200 candidates have made a positive response to being considered for board membership. It is expected that the Secretary of State will announce his decisions on the composition of the board in early autumn.

I hope, in the light of my explanation, that the noble Lord will not feel obliged to press his amendment and will withdraw it.

Lord Stanley of Alderley: My Lords, in reply to the noble and learned Lord, I am sorry to say that most people do not consider agriculture to be a business, although the noble and learned Lord does. A large number of farmers do not consider it so. Therefore, I rule out his case.

I should like to thank my Front Bench for supporting me. They do not always do so. I do not always support them, so why should they support me? Even more interestingly, I should like to thank the Liberals for supporting me. That was my family's party. They certainly very seldom support me. I hope the noble and learned Lord realises that on this occasion there are three people--myself; you might say a bolshie Back-Bencher, my Front Bench and the Liberal Party--who say that there should clearly be somebody representing agriculture and rural businesses who is available to go on the board of the Welsh Development Agency. I cannot understand why the noble and learned Lord still objects to that. I will come back to it later because, as the noble and learned Lord knows, I agreed with his Chief Whip that I would not be too awkward tonight. But I really am becoming a little short of patience with platitudes from the Front Bench saying, yes, they love me and they love agriculture; but no, they will not do anything about the rural economy.

Let me make it clear that by Third Reading I expect the noble and learned Lord and his noble friend to become a little more accommodating. We feel very strongly about this. The noble and learned Lord and his noble friend keep saying that they feel strongly, but I want money on the table. I am a farmer. I want to see the colour of their money. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 224 not moved.]

Clause 142 [Winding-down]:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page