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Rural Wales

Volume 929: debated on Monday 4 April 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied that the Welsh Development Agency is making adequate arrangements to deal with the economic problems of those parts of rural Wales that fall outside the responsibility of the Development Board for Rural Wales.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the highest levels of unemployment in Wales are outside the Mid-Wales area—indeed, are outside the special development areas? I welcome the emphasis placed by the WDA on the importance of small businesses, but does the Secretary of State think it sensible that the new Budget scheme to help small businesses should be confined to the special development areas? Does he not think that we should reconsider the boundaries of all these regional schemes in order to concentrate help where it is most needed? Are not some of the divisions that now exist becoming most unsatisfactory?

It is always difficult to draw a line whatever one does, but the special development areas have had traditionally a high degree of priority, and this is where we shall start with any problem.

Has the Secretary of State received the appallingly clichéridden document produced last week by the Welsh Development Agency, which apologises throughout for not being a proper strategic plan for the development of the Welsh economy? Will he now accept that it is time to give orders to the Agency to take its finger out, to stop scratching about on the environmental surface of Wales and to invest in public enterprise development in the empty advance factories from which so many of us suffer?

I do not accept any of that tirade. In the short period of its existence, the Welsh Development Agency has taken on major responsibilities for derelict land and the building of advance factories. It has also played a major part in ensuring the development in Merthyr Tydvil and has started, as the hon. Gentleman may have seen in the Press, on its joint investment programmes. For example, an important firm was announced recently for Newport, and there are others.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Welsh Development Agency is doing exactly what we said it would do, unfortunately, in raising very high expectations and being totally unable to fulfil them, particularly in North-East Wales?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the plans so far announced by the Welsh Development Agency in the environmental sector have been largely welcomed. Obviously there have been criticisms about some of the points raised in earlier Questions. Generally, however, the Agency has set out to tackle the task it was supposed to do. It has recruited its staff. It is getting more and more involved in industrial development, and we are already beginning to see the fruits of the seeds.