§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Goodhew.]
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)
In my Foreword to the Annual Report, Wales: 1970, I said that I would publish the Report when Parliament reassembled after the Whitsun Recess. In the event it was published last Friday during the recess. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members from Wales will forgive me for not keeping my word. I thought that, given the choice between waiting for the House to reassemble and having that all-important weekend in which to study the Report, Members would want me to put the document out. I hope that all hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies received copies of the Report last Saturday. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In that case I apologise, but I made certain that they were sent out to the home addresses of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on Friday evening. If they did not have it in time I apologise. My intention was to get the Report out as soon as possible so that opportunity would be given for all hon. Members to see it.
This debate takes place at a time when I have held the office of Secretary of State for Wales for nearly a year. A Welsh day debate is an occasion to review broadly the events of the year rather than go into the closer analyses of particular aspects of policy which characterise our debates in the Welsh Grand Committee. Therefore, I want today to range widely over the information in the Report, to bring together facts in that Report and developments since the end of 1970, and to present a picture of the Wales of 1971 which—while avoiding the euphoria which The Times newspaper discerned in the first Annual Report published by the previous Administration—should give the people of Wales confidence in their future, however worrying some present problems may be; and which should give industry and commerce confidence in investing in that future.
This has been a year of mixed patterns. There have been difficulties in the economic field, particularly in relation to employment and unemployment. But, at the 1252 same time, there have been important developments and significant decisions which will provide the basis for new advances and will help to make Wales a better country for its citizens to live in and a more attractive place for outsiders to come to and invest in.
I shall be referring later on to some of the economic problems of the past year. These are basically the problems of the United Kingdom economy as a whole rather than peculiarly Welsh ones. As I have said on many occasions, the Welsh economy does not live in isolation from that of the United Kingdom. It is part of the larger whole.
Our Welsh industrial and employment affairs will prosper to the full when the ills which beset the United Kingdom economy—the inflation, the sluggish growth and the other problems with which we are all familiar—are overcome, as indeed I have no doubt they will be when the policies of the Government come to full fruition. Even so, as I shall show later, we in Wales have weathered the immediate problems more successfully than many other parts of the Realm. But it is in the overall prosperity of Britain that we shall realise the fullest potential of our Welsh people.
I should like to start, therefore, by reviewing the work which is going on in many fields of public activity to improve the environment of Wales and create the conditions in which Wales will be able to seize to the full the opportunities for future development.
I will try to avoid the jargon of phrases like "infrastructure"—and perhaps even "environment" is becoming an overworked word. However, I want to review the things that make up the ambience of our society. [Interruption.] Ambience may be a new word for environment. I refer to the houses, the roads, the basic services, the hospitals and so on which provide the basic framework in which we live.
To start with housing. The number of completed houses fell in each of the last two complete years of the Labour Government and this decline continued in 1970, when some 15,500 completions took place. I think this is a somewhat disappointing figure, although I recognise that for a variety of reasons it is not an easy task to build up a head of steam to get old houses quickly replaced.
1253 All the same, no one can suggest that 15,500 new dwellings is a triviality. It is a large and valuable addition to the stock of good modern housing in Wales. It must be seen in the context of some 336,000 new dwellings built in Wales since the end of the war—or about one-third of our total stock of housing. What is more, there are welcome signs that house building in Wales may again be on an upward trend.
In the first four months of 1971, starts in both the public and the private sector, and approvals in the public sector were all appreciably higher than in the same period of 1970.
However, 1970 was a record year for house improvement: more than 10,000 improvement grants were approved last year. These grants began 21 years ago, but one in nine of all the houses so far improved with the help of grant in Wales was improved in 1970.
Coupled with this is a growing interest in the notion of environmental improvement, and I am gratified to find more authorities, including Cardiff City Council and Newport Corporation, embarking on a rolling programme of area improvement.
I am encouraged, too, to see the emphasis which is being placed by authorities on public involvement in general improvement area schemes. There is no doubt that 1971 will show an improvement over 1970.
Of course it is not enough merely to build houses. They need to be supported by proper arrangements for such things as water supply, sewerage and roads; and they cannot give the living conditions we all want unless we clear up the dereliction which still mars a good deal of industrial Wales.
In water supply and sewerage, the Report "Wales: 1970" records an estimated cost of capital works for public water supply approved in 1970 of £6,800,000 and for schemes of sewerage and sewage disposal a figure of £13,800,000. These are figures enormously larger than the comparable figures of only a few years ago. For example, in "Wales: 1966" the comparable figures were £3,800,000 for water supply and £4,200,000 for sewerage and sewage disposal.
1254 All this activity is needed. Consumption of water is expected to double between now and the end of the century. We need to ensure that the water services are organised to meet these needs. Last year the Welsh Council published a valuable and constructive report on water in Wales. This was presented in evidence to the Central Advisory Water Committee, whose report has since been published, and both reports are now under consideration by the Government.
I cannot, of course, today forecast the outcome of the Government's study of these documents, but it should not be thought that I associate myself with everything in the chapter in the C.A.W.C. report which deals with Wales. I can assure the House that the Welsh Council's report is being taken very seriously indeed as an important contribution to the study of the organisation of water resources in Wales.
On almost every Welsh Question day—and in the several debates we have had in the Welsh Grand Committee—there have been frequent references to the progress in our constantly expanding road programme. This is a matter to which the Government have given, and will continue to give, great priority.
Further progress has been made since my statements to the Welsh Grand Committee on 28th April. For instance, in the last few days contracts have been let for two westward extensions of the Heads of the Valleys Road. The first of these, the Glyn Neath Bypass, will provide a dual carriageway five and a half miles long. The other is for the construction of four and a half miles of new dual carriageway between Aberdulais and Llandarcy, with a new link road into Neath. The combined value of these two schemes is £13 million.
Work also started at the end of April on the third stage of improving the Cardiff-Merthyr road between Glyntaff and Abercynon. Some 11 continuous miles of this important new road are now under construction and preparation is continuing of the remaining lengths to carry the road northwards to beyond Merthyr Tydfil.
I can also announce three significant developments in the planning of future highway improvements. The first concerns the eastward extension of the Heads of the Valleys Road from Abergavenny 1255 to Raglan. We had previously envisaged building this road to dual carriageway standards in two stages—a single carriageway first, followed by a further carriageway later. I am now satisfied that there is good justification for building the road with dual carriageways from the outset. Planning is now proceeding on that basis.
The second development concerns the improvement of roads in Mid Wales. I announced in the Welsh Grand Committee on 28th April the results of a feasibility study on the east-west and north-south roads in Montgomeryshire and a suggestion was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) that a feasibility study should also be carried out on the east-west road from Llangurig to Aberystwyth. I have decided that this study should now be undertaken so that plans for future improvements of this road can be made on a sound basis.
The third development involves an addition to the principal road preparation list. As the House will know, principal roads are the responsibility of the local authorities but I pay a 75 per cent. grant towards their improvement.
Last year I invited local authorities to submit schemes for inclusion in the principal road preparation list. Most authorities have now submitted schemes for consideration and these are being examined. There is one scheme for which I can already say I am prepared to find a place in the list—this is in Port Talbot and is known as the central area diversion. Its estimated cost is £2 million and it is intended to play an important part in improving traffic movement and the environment within Port Talbot itself.
The inclusion of this scheme—or for that matter, any other scheme—in the preparation list is entirely without prejudice to my ultimate decision as the necessary statutory processes proceed. But in principle however I am satisfied that preparation of this scheme should proceed with a view to its being implemented as soon as possible.
I need not refer in detail to the clearance of derelict land. The introduction to "Wales: 1970" rightly says that:This is work in which Wales, in proportion to population and to the extent of dereliction, is clearly leading the way in Britain and perhaps in the world".
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman give some indication as to how he is thinking of financing the clearance of derelict land in the coming years?
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
Certainly. For financing the clearance of derelict land we make a considerable Government grant. In most of the areas where derelict land is being cleared the grant is considerable—over 80 per cent. When I say "over 80 per cent.", I am taking into account the rate support grant, as well as the 75 per cent. grant given by the Government.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
That is another matter. Perhaps we can deal with that on another occasion. To go into that matter would take some time.
Regarding derelict land, I am always glad to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes), for his initiative in setting up the Derelict Land Unit in the Welsh Office after the shock of the disaster at Aberfan; and to the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Cardiff West (Mr. George Thomas) for his continuation of the good work and for his particular contribution towards resolving the problems of the tip complex which caused the disaster. I intend to build vigorously on the foundations that they laid, and am today giving grant approval for yet another major scheme in the New Tredegar area.
Obviously, one is thinking of better water supply, sewers, and roads. This all costs money.
I should like to remind the House of a table of figures in the White Paper "Public Expenditure 1969–70 to 1974–75", presented to Parliament in January last, on page 46, giving figures for expenditures within my responsibility.
The 1971–72 estimate for miscellaneous local services, a grouping which includes water supply, sewerage and the clearance of derelict land, is shown there as £48.9 million. This is a generous share of the Great Britain total of £849 million. Wales also does particularly well for roads. The 1974–75 figure for roads in Wales is a very generous proportion of the Great Britain figure.
Still more striking perhaps is the comparison of rates of growth. For Wales 1257 the 1974–75 figures represent increases over the 1969–70 figures of about 32 per cent. for miscellaneous local services and 63 per cent. for roads, compared with increases in Great Britain figures of 25 per cent. and 44 per cent. respectively. The Welsh rates of growth are considerably higher than the rates of growth for Britain as a whole.
No discussion about the improvement of the environment is complete without a brief reference to the problems of controlling pollution of the land, the air, the rivers and the seas.
"Wales: 1970" records the growing public concern about this. The important improvements which are in train and planned for sewerage are one major contribution to the task. The Report records others and perhaps I might mention by way of example the effective action taken by the authorities whose coastline was threatened by the spillage of oil into the Bristol Channel after a tanker collision in 1970.
Another significant aspect of environmental improvement is provision for recreation. It has been announced today that a new independent executive Sports Council for Great Britain is to be established under Royal Charter which will take over responsibility for Government assistance for sporting activities which are the concern of Great Britain as a whole. A new independent executive Sports Council for Wales will also be established under Royal Charter to foster the development of sport in Wales. I am glad to announce that Colonel Harry Llewellyn, one of our distinguished Welsh sportsmen, has accepted my invitation to serve as Chairman of the new Council and Mr. T. Glyn Davies is to be its Vice Chairman.
The Council will receive grants from my Department for this purpose. I shall take over vote responsibility for this service and general responsibility for sports matters in Wales from my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment. I should like to pay tribute to the existing Welsh Sports Council which is a non-statutory advisory body and which has done such good work for sport in Wales under its distinguished Chairman, Alderman Philip Squire, Chairman of the Glamorgan County Council. I want to express par- 1258 ticularly my warm thanks to him for all the service he has rendered to the cause of sport in Wales.
Many of the services of which I have spoken so far—housing and so on—are in the main provided through local authorities.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgive me if I interrupt him? As I am about to leave the Chair for a time, I should like to say something about the length of speeches. About 20 hon. and right hon. Members have said that they wish to catch my eye, apart from Front Bench speakers. If hon. and right hon. Members would aim at a target of between 10 and 15 minutes, I would be able to fit everyone in. I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I hope that that remark was not directed to me, because I regret to say that there are many matters that I wish to deal with.
§ Mr. Speaker
The remark was not directed to the Front Bench speakers—but I hope that there will be a certain fall-out, nevertheless, so far as they are concerned.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I am much obliged, Mr. Speaker, and I shall do my best to be as brief as possible.
Proposals for the reorganisation of local government in Wales have been discussed over many years. Today is not the time to debate in detail my current proposals. I hope the Welsh Grand Committee will provide an opportunity for debate before long. I would simply remind the House that I published my proposals for the reform of local government in Wales as a consultative document in February. The necessary processes of consultation are in train. The Government will take careful account of all that is said to them. But I want no one to be in doubt about our determination to press ahead with this important task of reform. Wales has had years of proposal and counter-proposal and the delay is bad for everyone, not least for those who have made their careers in local government service and have had to suffer so long a period of uncertainty. I am sure it will be agreed that the time 1259 has come to act and the Government intend to push ahead with the task of putting local government in Wales on a new and strong basis.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider that the whole problem of local government in Wales is important enough to be debated on the Floor of the House and not in a remote Committee Room somewhere up on the next floor?
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an extremely important matter, but it was felt that the Welsh Grand Committee—and certainly this is a matter for discussion through the usual channels—was an ideal place in which to discuss local government reorganisation which is directly referable to Wales.
Housing, roads and the other matters I have discussed are all part of the environment. But in some ways I doubt if anything affects the private citizen more—or concerns his welfare more—than the provision of high quality up-to-date medical and social services.
Two days ago I announced proposals for reorganising the structure of the National Health Service, to bring together the administration of hospitals, family practitioner services and community health services. It is widely accepted that unified administration offers the best prospect of developing a truly comprehensive health service in a way which best meets the needs and best employs the available resources; and I acknowledge very readily that for the most part my proposals build on those of the previous Administration, in a pattern shaped to turn Welsh circumstances to the best advantage. Consultations with interested bodies will now proceed. It is our intention to bring reorganisation into effect in April, 1974, at the same time as the changes in local government. It will be an important part of the shaping of a better service for the Wales of the future.
"Wales: 1970" records the completion of a hospital of 500 beds for mentally handicapped patients at Bryn-y-Neuadd, Llanfairfechan, as well as further progress on other major schemes, including the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, probably the finest and best equipped 1260 hospital yet built in Europe. In the last 20 years there have been major new hospital developments also—entirely new buildings of modern design and with the most up-to-date equipment—at Abergavenny, Aberystwyth, Carmarthen and Swansea. In addition to the new hospital building, there is an impressive aggregate of extensions and improvements to existing hospitals.
The opening of the Heath Hospital will provide the long awaited opportunity to reorganise hospital services in the area. The formation in October, 1970, in Cardiff of the University Hospital Group has brought together for the first time an existing teaching hospital group with a hospital management committee. A more effective co-ordination and planning of the local hospital services will result.
We have increased the amount to be spent on the health and personal social services. Of the additional expenditure which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in October, 1970, some £5½ million is to be spent in Wales over the four years from 1971–72. It is intended that this extra money should go primarily to improving provision of particular services most urgently needed—mentally handicapped, mentally ill, and the elderly.
Impressive progress was made in 1970 in the health and social services provided by local authorities. Among other things, seven new health centres and 12 new homes for the aged were brought into use.
The infant mortality rate, deaths of infants in their first year of life per 1,000 live births, has been regarded as a fair index of environmental and social conditions as well as being an indication of the effectiveness of medical treatment. In 1949 this rate for Wales was 39 but today it is less than 20.
Perhaps even more striking is the reduction in the number of deaths due to child bearing. In 1948 there were 84 such deaths, but in 1969 they numbered only eight—a clear evidence of the improved medical care provided by hospital, general practitioner and local authority services.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
Would it be possible at this juncture for the Secretary of State to compare those figures with the British average? He will understand the seriousness of this point.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
As this juncture I could not make a comparison with the British average, but I will look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman.
Health was a function which was added to the responsibilities of the Welsh Office during the term of office of my predecessor. In my term, these responsibilities have been increased still further by the addition of functions in the education field. Thus for the first time in a Welsh day debate, a Secretary of State is able to discuss primary and secondary education on matters for which he has a direct responsibility. I am glad here, too, to be able to report very good progress.
"Wales: 1970" records that the major school building programme for 1970–71 included 26 new primary schools with places for 5,615 pupils; 19 new secondary schools with places for 9,300 pupils; and, to provide for the raising of the school leaving age, an additional 3,790 places at 24 secondary schools.
It records, too, the announcement in December of a design list of school projects likely to start in 1972–73. The value of this programme is more than £6 million, some £3 million of which is for the replacement and improvement of old schools. These are all impressively large figures and if, as with housing, we look back to 1945, the extent of change, of improvement and of modernisation is very striking indeed. From the end of the war to the end of 1970, 576 new primary and secondary schools have been built in Wales. The new places provided by new schools, remodelled schools and by extensions, adaptations and alterations to other schools total about 208,000.
At the moment, about 37 per cent. of the primary and secondary schoolchildren in Wales are being taught in new schools built since the war. With the qualification again that much remains to be done, this really is a major change for the better.
It is against this context of change and development in the environmental, health and educational fields that I want to say something about the economic scene in Wales. Since last December Members of this House who are also members of the Welsh Grand Committee have discussed various aspects of the economic situation in Wales for a total of some 16 hours. In addition, a large proportion of Welsh Question Time has 1262 been devoted to the same subject. This reflects the concern of all of us about this most fundamental aspect of our affairs and particularly about the current levels of unemployment.
No one can be in the slightest degree complacent about unemployment in Wales or anywhere else. The higher rates of unemployment which we have seen of late are a national phenomenon. They are not confined to Wales and they are at least in part the results of the wage-cost inflation from which this country is suffering. As I said on an earlier occasion, the quoting of statistics is not very much consolation to the man who is out of work. But the figures show clearly that Wales has been better able to withstand the present difficulties than certain other parts of Britain. The Welsh share of unemployment in Great Britain as a whole has decreased from 6.5 per cent. in May, 1970, to 5.9 per cent. last month. Over the same period the Welsh share of unfilled vacancies in Great Britain has increased from 3.2 per cent. to 4.1 per cent. This is clear evidence that we are weathering the situation better than many other areas and it leads me to believe that, as the national situation improves, Wales, with so much to offer and so conveniently located, will bound ahead economically as never before.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Does not the fact that the number of redundancies in manufacturing has trebled at the same time as new jobs arising from I.D.C. approvals has halved give a very different picture from that which the Secretary of State is now presenting?
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I am glad to say that the announcement of redundancies has decreased of late. I am fully aware of the high level of announced redundancies, but I am happy to say that there has been a considerable decrease in the last month.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Surely the Secretary of State will not leave the House in a limbo about this matter. Will he now provide the House with the figures of redundancies declared this year and last year?
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I will certainly give the right hon. Gentleman the figures later in the debate. I have not got them at my finger tips.
1263 I appreciate that it is extremely important not to attach undue significance to one month's figures—or even to one quarter's figures. But May proved to be a better month for Wales than several previous months. There was, for example, an increase in the areas of I.D.C.s issued and in the number of jobs likely to arise from them. And there were signs of a reduction in the number of redundancies notified. I will give the House the figures later.
But leaving aside these monthly movements, long-term objectives of diversifying Welsh industry seems to me to be one of the most important factors in creating a soundly based economy. As the Report shows, the long process of closures in the coal industry which has been a big problem for us over many years came practically to a halt, and a strong demand for Welsh coals was recorded. But even more important than that is the information in the Report that in the two years 1968–70, employment in manufacturing industries increased by 5.7 per cent., compared with an increase of 1.2 per cent. for Britain as a whole.
There is evidence of a move towards a healthier more diversified and better-balanced industrial structure. Today, not only is Welsh industry highly diversified, so that there is scarcely any industrial process not represented, but also it is for the most part highly modern. The remarkable increase in demand for electricity in 1970—faster in Wales than in Britain as a whole—and for gas, where sales increased at nearly twice the national rate, affords further evidence of this. There never has been a time when Wales possessed such an important and varied share of the British economy.
We are all accustomed to thinking of Wales as a major producer of steel. With one in 20 of the British population, it has one-fifth of the British steelmaking capacity and nearly one-third of the labour force of the British Steel Corporation. But it now ranks high in other manufacturing industries as well and they are for the most part very modern in character. For example, Wales produces a substantial part of Britain's aluminium and of its man-made fibres.
Perhaps most strikingly of all, as "Wales: 1970" records, it already has a 1264 fifth of Britain's oil refining capacity, without counting major expansions under way at two of the existing refineries and yet another new one to be built on Mil-ford Haven. The story of oil development in and around that splendid natural harbour, within barely a decade, is surely one of the most remarkable industrial stories of post-war growth in Britain. With deepening of the natural channel, crude oil carriers of up to 300,000 deadweight tons can now enter the haven fully laden on almost all tides, and 1970 set yet another record in the quantity of crude oil discharged. In tonnage of cargoes handled, Milford Haven is now the second port of the United Kingdom, ranking only after London.
It is also encouraging that the South Wales ports are continuing to flourish. When this subject was discussed in the Welsh Grand Committee on 10th March my hon. Friend the Minister of State drew attention to the fact that 1970 was the best year for the South Wales ports since 1954—despite a strike and the enforced closure of Newport Docks for four months. Traffic in 1970 showed a 7 per cent. increase over 1969.
The figures for the first quarter of this year show that this upward trend is being maintained—5.6 million tons handled compared with 5.2 million tons in the first quarter of last year, an increase of 8 per cent. The figures are even more encouraging when viewed against the background of the problems facing certain other ports in the country.
In this context I would like to say a word about the Severnside Study. This was initiated by the previous Government with the object of establishing whether there were areas within Severnside which would be capable of making significant contribution towards locating the expected increase in Britain's population by the end of the century. Since the study was launched in 1966 the forecasts of the population increase have fallen dramatically, but the study is no less valuable for all that.
Although the study was undertaken by the Central Unit for Environmental Planning, conclusions and recommendations do not commit the Government in any way. No decision will be taken until the views of all those concerned are known, and in our taking a decision on whether or not to accelerate growth in 1265 Severnside, a major factor which will be taken into account is the economic situation in South Wales and the future prospects of the area. In any case, the Report makes it clear that accelerated growth will not be required until the early 1980s—although, of course, the decision whether it will be required then will need to be taken in the middle 1970s.
Right hon. and hon. Members can therefore be satisfied that the interests of Wales will be fully recognised in the Government's consideration of the Severnside Study Report. On this, as with the series of important studies which have been made of a possible Dee Crossing, we shall be seeking the views of the local authorities and of the Welsh Council. I attended this week the opening meeting of the reconstituted Welsh Council under its new Chairman, Mr. Melvyn Rosser. I paid tribute then—and I want to do so again today—to the work of the previous Council and to the distinguished service rendered both to me and to my predecessor by its Chairman, Professor Brinley Thomas. The Council is one of the most important sources of advice available to a Secretary of State for Wales, and I look forward to the same close co-operation with it as both the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West and I had with the previous Council.
As I reminded the Council, the announcement which I made recently at the Welsh Grand Committee about the new town at Llantrisant conformed closely with the previous Council's advice about the need for and scale of development of the town. Although I am aware that strong reservations have been expressed by certain hon. Members about the proposals, I have no doubt that this big growth point will be a major attraction to industry and a source of strength and employment to the community of that part of South Wales.
Finally, I should like to make a reference to rural Wales. Much of what I have been speaking about—improvements of housing, improvements in the health and welfare services and so on—applies of course to rural Wales as well as to industrial Wales. Improvements in water supply and sewerage have a particular importance for the conditions of living in the countryside, and "Wales: 1970" records further impressive figures for the rural areas—approval of schemes costing 1266 a total of more than £1,700,000 for water supply and nearly £2,400,000 for sewerage. Continuing progress is being made on road improvements. My hon. Friend the Minister of State in winding up the debate, if he catches the eye of the Chair, will speak about agriculture, forestry, and tourism, which are the chief industries in the larger part of Wales. I shall say no more at this stage than that we recognise the difficulties facing the local authorities for those towns which the Welsh Office has joined the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association in selecting as potential growth points; and that I am considering how best I can assist them further in tackling these problems. I shall be meeting the Association early in July about this.
To sum up, what in brief is the scene before us? On the economic front, although Wales has in the last year or so fared rather better than some other parts of Britain, unemployment continues too high. But the economic measures which the Government have initiated are designed to tackle the root causes of the economic problems which face the United Kingdom. Wales, with its improving environment, and its many other attractions, will share fully in the benefits which will stem from these policies which we have introduced.
Technologically, educationally and socially, the Wales of 1971 is already a highly modern country. It is well equipped, and year by year it will progressively be better equipped, to face the future with confidence and to attract industry and commerce to invest in that future.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
The Secretary of State has referred to a number of subjects that are of considerable importance in the Principality—Severnside, the last report of the Welsh Council, rural Wales, forestry and agriculture. Obviously, we cannot discuss those subjects in depth today, which makes it perfectly clear that more frequent meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee are of the utmost importance. If Welsh constituency Members are to safeguard Welsh interests, it is essential that the Government acknowledge that we require at least a monthly meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee, in view of 1267 the extended authority of the Secretary of State.
For all that the right hon. Gentleman said, I was considerably interested in what he did not say. He purported to be speaking not only of the past but of the future for the Principality, yet he had not one word to say to us about the possible consequences for Wales of the Government's headlong rush to the Common Market. I believe that the Secretary of State owes it to the House to answer the questions which have been addressed to him over a long period of time by some of my hon. Friends about the implications of the Common Market for Wales. The Welsh people are entitled to know the full implications as the Government see them, and they should be spelt out to the House. We are not prepared to wait until decisions have been taken. We want to know what estimate the Government have made of the implications for labour, about the effect on employment and about the effect on our industry in general.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech that the debate takes place at an opportune time when he has completed his first year in office. The debate provides us with a twofold opportunity. We can review the results of the Government's policies in Wales and we can examine the prospects for the Principality. Unhappily, neither fills me with anything but forebodings, despite the optimistic nature of his speech. But before I turn to an examination of the Government's record in Wales, I want to refer to the Welsh Office.
When the Welsh Office was established in 1964 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson) no one would have expected the dramatic growth both in its size and in its influence that has been achieved. The Welsh Office has become a central pivot in the life of Wales and it is a major tribute to the Department that its executive responsibilities have been doubled in less than seven years. I believe that Wales is in debt to the dedicated men and women who form the Welsh Civil Service, and I speak with some authority and certainly from experience when I say that I know they feel involved in the problems of Wales. I take this annual opportunity 1268 to thank them for the services they give. But that is not to say that I do not feel sorry for them in the present circumstances, when they have to operate policies that damage our national interest and when they lack the political leadership to which they are entitled from the Secretary of State.
During the past year, further duties have been given to the Welsh Office. Responsibility for child care and for half the education service has been transferred from Whitehall to Cardiff. The right hon. and learned Gentleman told us several things about the education service but he forgot to mention one or two others. He forgot to mention that one of his major contributions within months of taking responsibility for primary and secondary education in Wales was to deprive 160,000 Welsh children aged from 7 to 11 years of the free milk which they enjoyed when he took office. His defence of this despicable measure is that it will save £400,000 of Government expenditure. He told the House that this saving was to be used in other areas of need—no doubt to help in reducing corporation tax or to help meet the extra cost which the Government have deliberately incurred by their decision to keep troops in the Far East.
The Secretary of State has told the House that children in special schools will still be supplied with free milk. Why is this so? Is it because, after all, he recognises the nutritional advantage which even he dare not deny these children? He has also given us the patronising information that where medical reasons require free mlik will be provided for our children between the ages of 7 and 11. So it is clear that our children must go without until the damage is done, until the doctor says, "This child needs free milk". Presumably, it will stop again when the child no longer has medical reasons for having free milk.
To save less than £500,000, the Government are prepared to play cat and mouse with the Welsh children, an increasing number of whose fathers find themselves in the dole queue. This is Conservative morality applied to the schools; it is the morality of brigands; it is the morality of the gutter that puts children in the front line of sacrifice, that takes from the weak to give to the strong. 1269 We do not know whether the Secretary of State is ashamed of this brutish policy, but I can tell him that Wales will never forgive either him or the Conservative Party, over which he presides, for making our children the victims of their policy.
I turn briefly to the health responsibilities of the Secretary of State. This is the main sector of Welsh Office expenditure in Wales. The budget was trebled when the health responsibilities were handed over. We shall obviously require a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposals dealing with the reorganisation of the hospital service and with his more recent consultative document concerning the restructuring of the entire health services in Wales. I shall, therefore, content myself with one observation today. The Secretary of State's personal involvement, or lack of involvement, in the Welsh hospital services is almost beyond belief. He treats them with the stern reserve that bishops keep for night clubs—or at least which they used to keep for night clubs in the less permissive society.
Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that one of the obligations of his office is that he shall move around Wales meeting the people who are carrying the local responsibilities, who are running our hospitals? He will learn more of their problems and their difficulties by visiting them than by sitting on his chair in Whitehall. Wales is a small country. The overwhelming advantage of the Welsh Office is that its Ministers can get close to the people who are carrying responsibility. The Secretary of State's practice of remote control is as unfair to the Welsh Office itself as it is offensive to the people serving in the hospitals and on hospital management committees.
Can it be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pressing duties as Chairman of the Conservative Party are so exacting that he cannot spare the time to go around the Principality? After Bromsgrove and the other by-elections, he will obviously have to spend more time on Conservative constituency organisation. But I must remind him again: a part-time Secretary of State for Wales is a luxury we cannot afford.
It is an insult to our national pride that, of the Ministers in the Cabinet, 1270 the Prime Minister believed that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the one with the most time to spare to organise the Conservative Party—[An HON. MEMBERS: "He did not mean it seriously."] Perhaps he did not mean it seriously; perhaps it is all a joke. When the present Chancellor was Chairman of the Conservative Party, he described it as a full-time job. But even if it is a part-time job, that time belongs to Wales as long as the right hon. and learned Gentleman holds this office.
I have deliberately left until the last part of my speech reference to the major anxiety that besets Wales today, and that is the state of our economy. It was hard to believe, in listening to the right hon. Gentleman, that we were talking about the same problem. When the Conservative Party took office in Wales they had at least three massive advantages—they inherited a first-class and expanding roads programme, which will carry through the '70s, in direct contradistinction to the programme we inherited in 1964, a programme—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman need not get excited. I have not started yet. I know the legacy that we received from the Conservative Party.
§ Mr Peter Thomas
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that when his party took office in 1964, the amount of motorway under construction was exactly the same length as the amount they completed?
§ Mr. George Thomas
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is almost becoming a master of the half-truth. He has allowed people to have the impression that announcements which he has made come from him when he has been continuing the road programme which I had announced.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I opened a section of the motorway known as the new Midlands Motorway not so very long ago. That motorway and that section were in the firm programme when we were in office in 1964.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I do not see what relevance that has to what I have been saying, but this is one of the facts of life—[Interruption.] There are not many facts of life I can teach him, I know, but this is one that he obviously needs to learn: road programmes obviously take five years to mature. That is why we 1271 were paying the price, even in 1969, of the road programme we had inherited from the party opposite. That is why he reaped the advantages of the road programme which my predecessor and I established for the '70s in Wales.
The second goodly heritage which the party opposite inherited was the fact that the agonising pit closure exercise had pretty well come to its conclusion. That is the misery which the Government before us and our own Government had to bear. The Labour Government's regional policy had reached such a galloping momentum in Wales that industrialists were falling over themselves to move into the Principality, just a year ago.
When the right hon. Gentleman opened the books in the Welsh Office, when he moved in, he found that there were 30,000 jobs in the pipeline for the next four years. It is to his everlasting discredit that that number has been reduced by half. Our investment grants policy attracted to Wales in the short period that they were in operation nearly 200 new industries; and, despite the loss of over 30,000 jobs through coal mine rationalisation measures, unemployment figures were 33,000 a year ago and were falling steadily through 1970.
Then, at an ill-considered stroke—I do not like to mention this today, because I do not want to join in the private quarrel between the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture, but I take seriously what the Prime Minister said and what they have done—the Conservative Government succeeded in changing the whole atmosphere in Wales. Like Gadarene swine they rushed over the cliff. The trouble is that they are taking us with them.
Capital investment was reduced in a matter of months from a torrent to a trickle. Plans for expansion of existing industries were pigeon-holed, from the north to the south. Within three months the party opposite destroyed confidence in industry. We have reached the sorry pass where not only is machinery for industry not coming into Wales but it is now beginning to go out of Wales. Teddington factory, in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick), is 1272 selling to a firm in Birmingham the machinery it obtained with capital investment grants. It may be within the law, but the writing on the wall for the right hon. Gentleman is that where we were building up, they are running down, and they are bringing havoc in the train of their economic policy.
This year has been the heaviest unemployment I have known since the war. The Government are using unemployment as an economic weapon to try to bludgeon the workers into obedience to Government policy in other fields. The terrible indictment of the Government is that our long queues of unemployed in Wales are not due to some unavoidable tragedy; they have been deliberately created by Government policy.
I want to ask the Secretary of State for Wales why it is that the Cabinet agreed to keep investment grants for Northern Ireland, but refused to let us have them in Wales. Is it that the Home Secretary knows how to fight? He looks after Northern Ireland affairs. Is it that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is beaten every time in the Cabinet? Did he not try to keep investment grants for Wales, when the Government sees the advantages they have in Northern Ireland?
One of the arguments used by the Government both upstairs and on the Floor of the House in defence of their economic policy is that it was outlined in their election manifesto. Of course it was in their election manifesto. It was one of the main issues on which the General Election was fought in Wales, because we knew that investment grants were our lifeline. That is why the Tory Party was rejected so contemptuously by the Welsh people at the General Election. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not know what went on in the General Election in Wales; he was too busy with the Londoners, trying to get a seat in this House. The Minister of State knows that it was very much an issue——
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I know that we won four seats in Wales and doubled our representation in this House. I know also that the right hon. Gentleman for the first time represents a seat on a minority vote, and that his vote went down considerably. This is a demonstration of what his constituents thought of 1273 his behaviour as Secretary of State for Wales.
§ Mr. George Thomas
Upon my soul, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. and learned Gentleman rises like a minnow to the bait. Out of 36 seats in Wales the Tory Party on this programme obtained a miserable seven. Twenty-seven of the 36 seats were held comfortably by the Labour Party. If we count my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil—because he is not a Tory, whatever he is—we have 28 seats out of the 36, and Desmond Donnelly was responsible for the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) having a short time in this House. When the Tory Party submitted this economic programme to Wales it lost 10 deposits; we lost none. The Tory Party lost more deposits in 1970 than in the 1966 General Election. The right hon. and learned Gentleman need not pretend that the Welsh people agree with the policy he is pursuing; he knows they wanted neither him nor his party.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether what I said was right? He now represents his seat on a minority vote for the first time, and his majority was reduced by about 5,000 in the last election. Does he consider that that was a vote of confidence by his electorate in him and in the measures which he had put through?
§ Mr. George Thomas
We are getting under the skin of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. We are both Welsh, and we are both capable of exaggeration; the difference between us is that I know when I am exaggerating. Five thousand, indeed—the right hon. and learned Gentleman flatters me. Unlike him, I have fought eight elections in the same area in Wales; unlike him, I have been returned every time, and, if I had not been, I would never have run to London for a seat.
Let the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at what has happened in the past year. Applications for operational grants under the Local Employment Acts fell from 40 in 1969 to 25 in 1970, and most of them were given in the first six months of that year. The value of the operational grants was reduced in the first year of Tory Government by 30 per cent. and fell from £1.4 million to £0.4 million. Building grants, about which 1274 the Government make a lot of noise, were reduced in the first year of Tory government by 25 per cent., from £4.4 million to £3.3 million. What proportion of that £3.3 million was paid in the first six months of the year compared with the last quarter of the year? Loans and removal grants under the Local Employment Acts were reduced this year by 29 per cent., from £5.3 million to £3.4 million. Applications for finance for training workers in new and expanding industries—a fair indication of what is happening—took a downward curve. The demand for supervisory and instructor training courses also took a sharp dive.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware of the thousands of our young people who are having their first job at the labour exchange signing their names. But he has been warned. To quote from his own Report, "Wales: 1970":The Advisory Committee for Wales of the National Youth Employment Council … is conscious that without a marked improvement in the economic situation, the opportunities that employment affords to utilise and develop the skills of Welsh school leavers, already inferior to those enjoyed by their contemporaries elsewhere, may further deteriorate.That is not the end of the catalogue of failure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to submit to the House. Inquiries by industrialists have dropped dramatically, by 22 per cent., from the last quarter of 1969 to the last quarter of 1970. The Report says that between 1960 and 1970 69 advance factories were established in Wales. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgot to say was that 61 of them were established during the time of the Labour Government. The humbug of pretending, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman does there, is enough to make him hang his head in shame when the facts are brought to light.
The cutback in graduate employment is expected by the C.B.I. to be 20 per cent. this year. Today in Wales eight men are chasing every job that is available—more and more people are chasing fewer and fewer jobs. The Government have warned us of worse to come. In their survey of industrial investment intentions they have said that they expect a fall of 2 per cent. Machine tool orders—a safe guide to the state of industrial prosperity—are now down by 50 per cent. 1275 Small wonder that last Sunday in the Observer there was an article, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably will have had brought to his attention, which states categorically:Many firms have been forced to cancel expansion plans in Wales as a result of the changes in financial incentives paid to industry by the Government.The Secretary of State knows that the C.B.I, and the T.U.C. are worried by the policy which is being pursued and feel that the change from investment grants to investment allowances has been a major contributory factor in the undermining of confidence.
What we need in Wales today is the restoration of confidence in industry, and nothing the right hon. and learned Gentleman said this afternoon will give that confidence. It will come when investment grants are restored. We need greater cash liquidity to help the smaller firms in their early years. We owe a great debt to the smaller firms. These are the people who are being directly hit.
I wish that the Secretary of State had today been able to announce on behalf of the Government some major policy change; for example, in regard to hire purchase or steps to help to reflate the economy. But the only encouraging signs I find are in the figures of employment in manufacturing industries. We see from page 1 of the Report that such industries continue to show encouraging gains amounting to 7,000 people in 1968–69 and 11,800 in 1969–70—an increase of 5.7 per cent., compared with an increase over the same period of 1.2 per cent. for Great Britain as a whole. This is the harvest reaped from our investment grants.
The crowning hypocrisy in this annual report is in the Secretary of State's personal introduction on page xvi, in which he says:In a difficult period, Wales has stood up to adverse trends rather better than the other two areas which are predominantly Development Areas. Scotland and the Northern Region of England.The Secretary of State should have been man enough to say that this has occurred only because of the regional policy pursued by the Labour Government, and that because of Labour's investment grant policy we have been protected from the blizzard that has been let loose.
§ Mr. George Thomas
The Secretary of State whispers "Scotland". If he examines the figures he will see that Wales did better than Scotland. It so happens that we did far better in attracting new industry under the investment grant scheme than any part of the United Kingdom, but that was before the right hon. and learned Gentleman got his hands on the levers of power.
This Report is, in my judgment, as much a tribute to the Labour Government as it is a condemnation of the Conservative Party. One year of Tory rule has transformed our chances from a land of opportunity to a land of alarm. Unemployment is up, food prices are up, rents are up, rates are up, and life is altogether harsher. We know that the Government are aware that the Welsh people as a whole did not ask for that misery since they did not vote them into power. If the English had had the same political intelligence as the Welsh, we would not be in our present plight. None the less, we are entitled to a fair deal.
One would have expected the Secretary of State, knowing that the Conservative Party is not wanted by Wales and that he himself is not answerable to any Welsh constituency, to lean over backwards to prove that he will fight for Welsh interests. He has chosen not to do so. Everything he touches turns to dust. The man is either unlucky or incompetent and in either case it is too bad for Wales. It is no use the Secretary of State thinking that fair words at the Dispatch Box this afternoon will placate the fears of the Welsh people, who remember that every time the Tory Party is in power Wales pays a heavy price.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) for remaining totally immune to the fall-out which Mr. Speaker referred to just before he vacated the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman is my favourite song-bird, but if he is to retain that status he needs to widen his repertoire a little. We have heard a good deal of it before.
In reference to the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the success of the Labour Party compared with that of the Conservative Party in sending Members to 1277 this House, I would point out that there is a 100 per cent. attendance—or was until a minute ago—by hon. Members on this side of the House and that the Opposition have not quite managed to achieve that.
I would like to take this apportunity of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on a forceful and effective speech. If he goes on as he is going, then with a few more years' practice he will no doubt be an outstanding Opposition spokesman. Opposition Members have made great play in the past, and no doubt will do so during this debate, with the loss of jobs in Wales, as we did when we were in Opposition. The Report which we are discussing today, "Cymru: Wales: 1970", covers the year 1970, and, therefore, almost exactly half the period is represented by a period of rule by the Labour Party and the other half by the rule of this Government. I am ready to give the Labour Party credit for everything that went right in 1970 in Wales if, by the same token, they will accept the blame for everything that went wrong.
The object of that ploy is to bring to light the fact that to a large extent we are engaged in "shadow boxing", because both parties obviously want to do what they can to improve the Welsh economy. However, there is a difference of approach. The Labour Party expended very large sums of money indeed to produce results which were real, as I can see, but the results were disappointing, as the Labour Party will admit, in relation to the sums of money which had to be spent in order to achieve them.
The difference in approach by the Conservative Government is that they began by saying that the sums of money which were being expended in this way and in other ways were such as to constitute a brake on the effective growth of the United Kingdom as a whole. Therefore, that can be said—and one could quarrel with this view—that the policy of the Government is to seek to achieve, for a smaller expenditure, results which in Wales may—I stress the word "may"—be less striking in numerical terms than those achieved by the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
How can the hon. Gentleman reconcile what he is saying with what was said by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the Welsh 1278 Grand Committee on 9th December? He then said:To sum up, the advantages which special Government assistance bestows upon the development areas under measures announced on 27th October will be broadly equivalent to the present value."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee; 9th December, 1970; c. 7–8.]Therefore, the same amount is being spent, further amounts have been spent since then, and we are getting fewer results.
§ Sir A. Meyer
I do not think we are discussing the same thing. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was not talking about infrastructure——
§ Mr. Kinnock rose——
§ Sir A. Meyer
No. If I keep giving way, we shall be here all night, and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.
To a large extent, the problem of Wales is that of the United Kingdom as a whole, in that in Wales a very large population grew up in response to the growth in the last century of certain industries which are no longer growing. Government policies have been to attempt artificially to remedy this state of affairs by implanting, again artificially, industries which were intended to be growth industries. The same is true of the United Kingdom as a whole.
To my mind, this is powerful argument in favour of the United Kingdom joining the European Economic Community. The kind of modern, science-based industries which are necessary for the United Kingdom, and which are necessary if Welsh economic recovery is to be soundly based and self-perpetuating, require a large, protected home market. It could be that once Britain was inside the E.E.C. her rate of economic growth would continue to be slower than that of the other members of the Community but faster than it would have been otherwise. By the same token, it is better for Wales that the differential between her standard of living and that of the rest of the United Kingdom should widen and yet that Welsh living standards should rise, rather than that the differential should narrow, if the price of that is to hold back United Kingdom growth as a whole. The looks of incredulity on the faces of hon. Members opposite suggest that 1279 their party is, as we claim it to be, the party which believes in equality of misery.
§ Sir A. Meyer
The hon. Gentleman will see a very good example of Slough in Wrexham, and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) is not here to tell us about it. The Wrexham story is an excellent example of modern growth industries succeeding because they nurture one another's prosperity.
We may be compelled to look rather more closely and critically at the object of regional policy or at what can be realistically achieved by regional policy. It is not realistic to aim to return to any given level of economic activity in Wales or in any other part of the United Kingdom. What is realistic is to aim to bring prosperity to individual communities and to enable Wales once again to become a country in which it is agreeable to live. We have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that those of our young people who are most directly motivated by purely material gain probably will look outside Wales. If the consequence of that is to leave us with more of the young people who value what Wales has to offer, I am not sure that we are the losers, provided that we are conscious of the need to retain Wales as a place in which it is agreeable to live.
I see the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) on the benches opposite. I am conscious of the way in which in Merioneth there are factors which at one and the same time damage the economic prospects and spoil the environment of that part of Wales. I am thinking of the way in which Merioneth's status as part of the Welsh development area is diluted so as to be virtually valueless because the concession has been spread too widely. I speak with a good deal of feeling in this connection, because we in Flintshire are plagued by the same problem. I am certain that by far the best solution would not be to grant Flintshire intermediate area status but, to coin a hideous word, to "de-intermediatise" Merseyside, especially that portion of it which is contiguous to Flintshire.
That is one of the reasons why Merioneth is in special difficulty. The 1280 other is the problem of rural public transport. We have to face the fact that in sparsely populated areas there is no prospect of ever re-creating public transport on a basis which can be self-sustaining or profitable, or even on a basis of being able to operate at a level of subsidy likely to be regarded as tolerable by those liable to contribute to it.
We have got ourselves into a hopeless situation over local transport in rural areas. It is quite a different problem from that of urban areas. I am one of those Tories who would gladly consent to massive subsidies to public transport in urban areas, since it could be made self-supporting once it reached a certain pitch of efficiency. In rural areas the battle is lost, and it will be necessary to examine fundamental and far-reaching proposals in this connection.
I notice that paragraph 20 of the report of the Welsh Council refers to the need for a major research project to be undertaken to provide the basis for a transport policy in rural Wales. I hope that that proposal has fallen on receptive ears in the Welsh Office. I understand that the Department of the Environment is conducting a couple of pilot studies in parts of England, and I am waiting to see the results. However, I shall be astonished if they are sufficiently wide-ranging or radical in their approach.
Recently I wrote an article which appeared in the Liverpool Post and which may have seemed a little cranky. I went so far as to try to produce some kind of correlation between total transport availability, by which I meant not just post buses but private cars and all other transport travelling in any direction at any one time, and the needs of people in the area to travel in that direction. I believe that a great deal could be accomplished if the problem were approached in that way. Unless we are able to provide the old, the young and the sick with means of getting about in Wales from one place to another, it is idle to talk about Wales being a place in which it is good to live. This is a problem the solution of which does not demand vast resources. What it demands is imagination and new thinking. I very much hope that we shall have both from my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
I entirely agree with the last comment of the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), that Wales is a good place in which to live. That is why I live there. However, I cannot agree with much else that he had to say.
It was expected that the debate would be over-shadowed by the problems of unemployment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) in a vigorous and realistic speech reminded the House of the economic consequences to Wales of the withdrawal of investment grants. It is the Government's responsibility to solve the problems of unemployment. They have the power within their reach.
I want at the outset—we have been asked to be brief—to point to one example where effective action by the Government would result in providing employment for more than 200 men in my constituency.
The Report, on page 19, under the heading "Manufactured Fuel", says:In view of the present heavy demand for smokeless fuels, the smokeless fuel manufacturing plants of the National Coal Board in South Wales have assumed great importance.That is an important comment. That statement confirms the wisdom of the National Coal Board in proposing to build a new smokeless fuel plant in my constituency at Abernant, which has since had to be cancelled because of the Government's withdrawal of investment grants.
Since I last mentioned the matter a new situation has arisen. I have had discussions with the new Chairman of the National Coal Board, Mr. Ezra, to whom I pay warm tribute for the deep concern which he expressed about this issue. He has agreed to further dicussions to see whether the gap caused by the loss of investment grants could be met by other measures.
The Government claim that their proposals for the economic life of Wales are better than those of the previous Government. This is a practical example where effective Government action could ensure a new industry and contribute towards employment in an area where it is badly needed. The catchment area 1282 for Abernant covers both the Swansea and the Amman Valleys.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, the Neath Valley. In the light of the unemployment position, here is an opportunity for the Government to prove their claim that their regional policies offer a better prospect for industrial development. The situation also provides a challenge to the Secretary of State to justify his comment in the Welsh Grand Committee on 9th December when he said:Our regional policies will certainly not militate against new industrial development in Wales".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 9th December, 1970; c. 8.]Again, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House on 27th October, when he announced the Government's new measures to replace investment grants, said:We will proceed with these measures without delay, so as to give an early stimulus"—I emphasise the word "stimulus"—to growth in the development areas."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 47.]I am talking about a special development area. I therefore urge the Welsh Office, together with the appropriate Government Department, to re-examine the position at Abernant and to help to establish this much-needed plant in this special development area which has already suffered more than most as a result of pit closures. I know from correspondence that the N.U.M. and the neighbouring local authorities fully support the appeal which I am making, because of their concern to ensure new employment.
Although the provision of employment is a major issue equally important and urgent is the provision of homes for our people, which was the first item dealt with by the Secretary of State in his opening remarks. Like employment, housing is essentially a human problem. I do not want to say too much about what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said; I want to comment on what is said in the Report, which contains comments which have not been mentioned. On page 91 of the Report we are given an ominous warning thata basic rethinking of the structure of local authority housing finance1283 has begun. I hope that the House will note those words. I gather that the rethinking is still in process. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer drew aside some of the secrecy when, on 27th October, he said:By the middle years of the decade this reform"—reform of housing finance—will be transforming housing finance and should lead to a saving in public expenditure of £100 to £200 million a year as compared with the level of expenditure which would have flowed from the policies in operation when we took office".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 41.]We already know that this undoubtedly means a huge slashing of housing subsidies. It also means that this huge cut will have a disastrous effect on local authority building. It is not just by way of redistribution; it is a positive reduction.
There might be some merit in this case if the Government were proposing that some should have more and others less. That is not to happen. We are faced with a reduction which will put many councils and their tenants in an impossible position. One consequence will be perfectly clear to the House. It will inevitably lead to a great increase in rents—there is nothing about that in the Report—which is a major item in the budgets of most people. This increase will be the result of deliberate Government policy, so they will not be able to blame the trade unions or anything else for this consequence.
Another serious situation will arise. No assurance is given in the Report that there will be any control exercised over rent increases. I remind the House that the Labour Government introduced two measures to keep rents at a reasonable level during periods of exceptionally high interest rates. Both the 1968 Rent Act and the 1969 Rent (Control Increases) Act broadly restricted increases in rent to an average of 7s. 6d. in any one year. The report makes no reference to this matter. I ask the Minister of State, when he replies, to tell us whether the 1969 Act is to continue.
This huge withdrawal of housing subsidies is an attack upon the public sector. A great deal of nonsense is talked about the discrimination between council house 1284 tenants and owner-occupiers. Although a council house tenant receives a subsidy, the owner-occupier receives considerable benefit in tax relief. The average cost of subsidy on a council house is about £26 a year, compared with the average cost of subsidy in the form of tax relief which the owner-occupier receives of approximately £60 per year on a £3,000 house. We on this side are not against the principle of owner-occupiers. Most of us are owner-occupiers. Indeed, the proof is that the Labour Government's policies of mortgage option schemes and a high level of local authority lending and so on resulted, for the first time in our history, in over 50 per cent. of our dwellings becoming owner-occupied. That is a fine record.
Why do not the Government do something practical to assist owner-occupiers instead of concentrating their attention on the removal of subsidies to local authorities? For example, why do they not take action to deal with the scandal of high interest rates charged by building societies? The building societies arein a stronger position than they have ever been.These are not my words; they are the words of the Minister for Housing and Construction uttered in this House on 6th May in col. 1680. He also announced:Their total assets at the end of March amounted to £11,119 million. Last year their gross lending was £1,986 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th May. 1971; Vol. 816, c. 1680.]These are record figures. Why do not the building societies take advantage of their existing strength to reduce their lending rates? What every owner-occupier wants to know is why it is that when the Bank Rate goes up the mortgage rate goes up the next day, but when the Bank Rate is reduced there is no corresponding reduction in the mortgage rate. The Bank Rate today is 6 per cent., but the mortgage rate is between 8 per cent. and 9 per cent.—50 per cent. more.
The need for more housing in both the private and the public sectors remains great, and it is a sad commentary on our affairs that despite this need we have at the same time the highest level of unemployment in the building industry since the early 'thirties. The figure for the 1285 whole country is 129,000 men, and last year the total of 15,500 houses completed in Wales—and the Secretary of State referred to this—was the lowest figure for seven years.
In recent weeks Buchanan and Partners have produced a study entitled "The Prospect for Housing", published by the Nationwide Building Society. It is a remarkable and, indeed, valuable, piece of work. It says in its concluding paragraph on page 102:… the essence of our case is this: if there is to be any logic in the disposition of our priorities and the deployment of our resources, we must ensure that our society, as it moves towards a greater measure of education, leisure and prosperity, has the housing that it needs for a fuller and a richer life.I think the House will accept that that remark should be taken to heart by most people. If we are to take a lesson from that report, it is clear that what is needed is a new drive to extend home ownership by reducing mortgage interest rates, and a drive to improve, and not to destroy, housing subsidies to local authorities.
New housing problems have arisen in another direction, and that is in our university cities and towns. The increase in student numbers has led to an increased demand for housing accommodation. It follows, therefore, that there is strong competition for rented accommodation between students and others in more prosperous positions, and the student suffers by comparison. Vice-chancellors and principals are already pressing for low interest finance for student residences, or for larger grants to students to enable them to pay the higher rents which they are now being charged. While universities are taking action to cope with the situation within the limits of their resources, difficulties inevitably arise, and it is, therefore, clear that the problem of student housing should be given special consideration by the Government.
It is obvious also from the report that urgent and determined action is necessary to deal with house improvements. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, who was Secretary of State at the time, that the Labour Government's Housing Act of 1969 will go down in history as one of the most significant housing measures that this 1286 House has ever considered, especially the provisions for dealing with house improvements and changing old houses into new homes.
The report tells us that a total of 10,000 houses have been improved; but that is completely inadequate, bearing in mind the extent of the problem. I invite the House to look at the recent age and condition survey in Wales, which revealed that out of a total stock of 881,000 houses, at least one-third were 70 years old, one-third were 55 years old, and the remaining one-third were built since 1945. Apart from the age question, we received the shock information—what a shock it was!—that 250,000 houses were without the basic amenities, together with 92,000 houses declared unfit. What a scandalous situation!
Those figures make it clear that there is no room for complacency, and I urge the Secretary of State to show a far greater determination than he has done so far in the campaign for improving houses and for slum clearance. Housing should not be a matter of ideology. It is the most urgent, and the most desperate, social problem in the country. In "Panorama" on Monday we heard about the problems of Islington, and there has been a report recently by a former professor of Swansea University about the homeless people in Wales. This is a desperate social problem, and it will not be solved by prejudice and emotional reactions by people for or against this or that sector of housing. The problem will be solved only if we recognise that both the public and the private sectors have a crucial part to play, and that both will need all the help they can get from, and all the determination of, every Government. I remind the House that houses are homes, and that our homes in Wales are our greatest assets.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I agree with the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Ifor Davies) when he says that houses and homes are vitally important. In fact, I do not dissent from a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I remind him that many of the problems to which he referred were found by his Government to be extraordinarily difficult to solve, particularly that of high mortgage rates. During their whole term of office the Labour Government found it almost 1287 impossible to bring down mortgage rates, for the simple reason that if the rate is lowered, the amount of money going into building societies tends to dry up. Having held the Ministerial office that he did, the hon. Gentleman knows that to be true.
In his forceful and pungent speech the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) made some remarks which he must realise are as exaggerated as those which he accused my right hon. Friend of making. The right hon. Gentleman blamed my right hon. Friend for taking credit for the building of certain new roads which, he said, were planned during the Labour Government's term of office. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that his predecessor at the Welsh Office, in the early days of the Labour Government, similarly claimed credit for roads which had been devised and planned—[Interruption.] I remember Labour Ministers claiming credit for the completion of certain stages of the M4 and the Severn Bridge, and even opening sections of roads which had been partially completed during the Conservative Government's term of office. I do not blame them for that, but they claimed credit for it. If the right hon. Gentleman checks the records, he will find that I am right.
§ Mr. George Thomas
Will the hon. Gentleman say to which of my predecessors he is referring, and the occasions on which that happened? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not make that kind of statement without having the reference available. What were the dates on which that was done?
§ Mr. Gower
I do not have the references, but I am sure that that was done. I am not saying this in a highly critical manner. I am not attacking those Ministers. It is natural that they should do that. They did it, and my right hon. Friend has done it, because there is an overlap between one Administration and another. There is nothing strange in this, but the right hon. Gentleman was being more than unfair in criticising things which were perhaps duplicated to some degree during his Government's term of office. He complained about rising unemployment, but the graph was already established in some degree during periods when his party was in Government.
Similarly, the right hon. Gentleman complained about the cost of living but 1288 the upward trend was firmly established during his own Government's term of office. It is the business of politics and politicians to criticise one's opponents, it is a fair thing to do, a healthy interplay, but the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that there were just as many faults and failings in his Administration, which were very obvious to those who voted against his party in such large numbers at the last General Election.
There may be a fair debate on the comparative merits of the use of Investment grants or allowances. We made it clear during our time in opposition that we had misgivings about the results achieved in some parts of the economy by the somewhat blanket use of these grants. I accept that there may be cases when new companies will be deterred by not having an immediate grant. It must be obvious, however, to any dispassionate observer that the use of these grants can in some cases encourage the entry of firms which may not produce the long-term employment stability which we seek. To that extent the sort of firms we have to attract to Wales are ones with some record of achievement which is likely to be sustained for a long time.
I recognise that my hon. Friend cannot reply in detail tonight to these diverse matters of industry, housing and so on which have been raised and I hope that he will forgive me if I raise something quite different, the question of our hospitals. As he knows, we in the Barry area have been disturbed by the proposals of the Welsh Hospital Board for the closure of certain hospitals. As my hon. Friend is aware, there was consternation in the areas, not limited to Barry but spreading into adjacent areas about the proposals for the closure of the Barry Accident and Surgical Hospital, the Barry Maternity Hospital and the Out-Patients Hospital at Barry leaving only a geriatric hospital known as the Neale-Kent Hospital. I would remind my hon. Friend that the Barry Accident and Surgical Hospital is not a small cottage hospital but one of the very few set up when Barry was an urban district before it obtained borough status. There were very few hospitals created by urban districts. It is a hospital which from its early days has had consultaant services available. The devoted service over many years of some distinguished consultants, including 1289 the present consultants, Dr. J. Kotowski and Mr. Vernon Jones, is something which has meant a great deal to an area extending beyond the Borough.
This hospital caters not only for the Borough of Barry but also for areas such as Llantwit-Major, Rhoose, Sully, Dinas Powis, Wenvoe and villages in the Cardiff Rural District as well as parts of the Cowbridge Rural District. It also caters for a wide spread of industry including Barry Docks, the Glamorgan Airport at Rhoose, the B.P. Chemical Group of companies at Sully, the Midland Silicones Company at Barry, the cement works at Rhoose and Aberthaw, the power stations at Aberthaw, the R.A.F. station at St. Athan, and many other industrial undertakings.
It also caters for considerable summer holiday traffic to Barry Island and the Bristol Channel coast between Penarth and Llantwit-Major, including a Butlin's holiday camp, many caravan sites and areas of a holiday and residential character. The winter population of these areas, amounting to about 65,000 to 70,000 people, is often swollen at times in the summer to figures well in excess of 100,000 people.
The whole of the general practitioner and other medical services in these areas is geared to and related to the existence of an accident and surgical hospital in the town of Barry and an out-patient hospital in the vicinity. Industrialists such as B.P. Chemicals Ltd., Midland Silicones Ltd., British Transport Docks Board, the Association of Barry Industries, and the cement companies at Rhoose have told me that they view the continuance of some surgical services in the area as being vital to their effective continued operation. There would be an obvious loss of time if persons engaged in these manifold industries had to travel to a district general hospital in the City of Cardiff for every comparatively small accident.
Those connected with the College of Further Education at Barry and the Glamorgan College of Education at Barry, and with the numerous schools in the area are likewise concerned that students and pupils would again, for any small accident, have to go to the City of Cardiff, with consequent strain on all 1290 kinds of services. There are also sad limitations on the ambulance services.
The Barry Maternity Hospital has a similar catchment area and is, as my hon. Friend saw when he visited it, in modern attractive and well-equipped buildings. Nearly two-thirds of the babies born in the area of Barry, Penarth and Cardiff Rural are born there. It is a very high proportion. Most mothers elect to have their babies in these hospitals, and it is the view of most medical people in the area that if the hospital were to close as the revised plan, approved by my right hon. Friend envisages, then many of these may return to the less desirable practice of having their children in their homes.
These closure proposals of the Welsh Hospital Board are related to the provision of the new University Hospital at The Heath, Cardiff. The proposals also arise from expert medical and surgical opinion which requires hospital treatment for accidents, injuries and illnesses to be in a large district general hospital of this character. We have been told, and most of us cannot dissent from it, that expert opinion emphasises the importance of having available a full range of expert consultants surgical and medical skills. My constituents, like others, accept this, but we also plead for other considerations to be taken into account.
There are human and humane considerations which, sometimes, those who administer our hospital services tend to minimise in importance or to overlook. These are such things as hospital visiting and the expense incurred by next of kin in such visits, the limitations and strains imposed upon the various ambulance services, the interruption of work at factories if patients have to be taken to a base hospital, the interruption of schooling, accidents to holiday-makers and road accidents on the many fairly narrow roads crossing the area.
Dealing with the revised proposals of the Welsh Hospital Board, published recently and now endorsed by the Secretary of State, I have to say that we deeply regret the closure of the Barry Maternity Hospital. I quote from a letter of 4th June, sent from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of the Welsh Hospital Board in which he says:He is therefore pleased to note that the Board intend to produce out-patient clinics at Caerphilly Miners' Hospital, and at Barry, until 1291 such time as out-patient services have been developed at Llandough.What is the significance of the phrase "out-patient clinics" as opposed to a hospital? Does it mean something smaller and perhaps inferior? How effective can such out-patient clinics be if they are totally deprived of the existing consultants' advice? Why make this change in out-patient services at Barry before out-patients' services are developed at Llandough? Would it not be better to allow these services to remain at Barry until the services promised for Llandough have become available?
In considering the question of inpatients at Barry Accident Hospital, we recall the Secretary of State's acceptance of the hospital board's proposal to end consultant treatment for in-patients at Barry. In his letter to the hospital board secretary, the Minister wrote:He"—the Secretary of State—is, however, impressed by the arguments for the provision in Barry of some beds for patients not needing the full facilities of a major hospital, and he requests the Board to initiate discussions with local general practitioners as soon as posible with the object of retaining some in-patient beds at the Hospital as general practitioner beds.Why was there no prior discussion with general practitioners before formulating such a proposal? How many general practitioners would be needed, and from what areas, to achieve the required results? How long would general practitioners need to devote to this hospital work?
Other questions immediately spring to mind. For example, could this work be reconciled with their own practices; what renumeration would be arranged; and could general practitioners be expected to do this work without aid from consultants? These questions have been put to me by some of the people involved. I appreciate that they are formidable questions, but they must be answered.
I come to the proposals for Sully Hospital, which is in the same area, near Barry. Here we have some splendid magnificently equipped buildings in a glorious setting. The Minister of State visited this lovely hospital with me and he knows how magnificent it is. It has had a notable record in reducing the ravages of tuberculosis in Wales, and 1292 in recent years an equally notable record in chest and cardiac treatment and surgery.
Unfortunately, it is now contemplated that this hospital should be seriously scaled down in its activities. In recent years the work done in this hospital, inspired by the dedication of Dr. H. M. Forman, the physician superintendent, has been tremendous. New accommodation has been provided for the nurses and this has improved the staffing position. The "Friends-of-Sully-Hospital" have provided a unique service of flatlets and buildings in which the relatives of patients can stay overnight.
It is a tragedy that the Board is now contemplating scaling down the work of this hospital. Many people feel that it should not be downgraded and that the matter should be completely reconsidered, even following the Secretary of State's adoption of the advice of the Board.
The whole question of the rearrangement of hospital services in the Cardiff area is geared not only to the existence of the new Heath Teaching Hospital but to the inadequate buildings of Cardiff Royal Infirmary, and this is most unfortunate. We need another large major hospital, and it should be developed at Llandough. The existing buildings of Cardiff Royal Infirmary are so old and in need of renewal that it is difficult for the staff to ensure that modern standards of cleanliness are applied.
These are great human problems which have to some extent been overshadowed for some years. I trust that these matters will be examined further because, in a strange sort of way, the whole question, of local hospitals concerns people as much as jobs and the provision of employment. The public feel remarkably emotional about this subject. In other words, these are matters which go to the hearts of thousands of people in the various localities.
I hope that we will not take a purely scientific view. I accept that the Government must adopt the advice of medical experts. However, this advice should be tempered with the humanity that is needed if we are to have a humane and effective hospital service. I fear that we may have gone too far in accepting the advice of the experts and that we have not paid enough attention to the humanity that is inspired by those who 1293 give voluntary service in our hospitals. It is in that spirit that I make this further appeal to the Secretary of State and to the Welsh Hospital Board.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I certainly respond to your earlier appeal to keep our remarks to the shortest possible duration, Mr. Speaker.
I have three main points to make. The first refers to rural unemployment, particularly in the Lleyn peninsula of southern Caernarvonshire, about which I have frequently spoken both in the House and in the Welsh Grand Committee.
I take issue with the Secretary of State over what I regarded as his somewhat crude dictum that employment prospects in all parts of the country depended almost entirely on the general movement of the economy in the Realm. For many years I shared with him the honour of representing the County of Caernarvon in this House, and we have had periods of close co-operation. He will recall that despite times of comparative boom in the United Kingdom economy, there have been chronically high levels of unemployment in his and my county and that these high levels have remained almost intractable.
We must not, therefore, fall into the rather easy posture of hoping that when the D.E.P. indices of investment, and even liquidity, indicate a national United Kingdom forward movement, it will necessarily mean that parts of Carmarthen, Caernarvonshire, Merioneth and many parts of England and Scotland will move in the same direction. Experience tells us that that does not necessarily follow.
It is clearly necessary, therefore, to apply special techniques to the solution of the unemployment problem in some areas, an example of which is my constituency, though I am sure that many other constituencies which have not already been mentioned will be cited.
The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) will agree that James Griffiths, the First Secretary of State for Wales, with whom I had the privilege to serve when the Welsh Office was set up, made a major contribution to the gradual solution of the problem of depopulation in mid Wales. The Mid Wales Association received fresh funds, 1294 new powers and strong Ministerial support. As a result, it is a success story. Though it has by no means completed its task, it is clearly on the way to solving the problem of rural unemployment and depopulation in a significant part of Wales.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have rejected a proposal which I and others have made about constituting South Caernarvonshire and Merioneth as a special development area. I suggest that techniques similar to those now being successfully applied in mid Wales should be applied to our area. The problems are similar—the reduction of employment in traditional heavy industry, the automation of agriculture, and the run-down of the slate and stone quarries. Surely, in the two areas the success should be comparable if the same tehniques are adopted.
My second point is that linked to the survival of our rural areas, on which much of the best of our culture and the greater part of our linguistic distinctiveness is based, is the question of communications, about which I know the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been extremely concerned. Roads are not the whole of the story. In rural Wales, branch railways—what is left of them—are assuming greater and greater importance. Indeed, there are branch railways which have been closed in the last few years that we already realise ought to have been kept open, even at a high rate of subsidy. In the years to come, no matter how many roads we build, the road congestion will be such that all our railways will make an essential contribution to the mobility of people and goods.
I am especially concerned, with my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) about the future of the Cambrian Coast Railway, which runs through country where it is inconceivable that there can be any major road improvements—certainly not in the next five to ten years when one considers the table in the Report. It is a railway which is increasingly being used by tourists and it is the last rail link between Northwest Wales and the Midlands and London. If we take it away we shall have nothing but a very poor road system connecting a high employment area with its sources of raw materials and its markets.
1295 I know that I am speaking somewhat against the protocol in that the inquiry is to be held on 22nd June, but I feel so deeply about this matter that I appeal to the Minister to consider very carefully the future of this railway when the papers are placed before him.
My last point on this matter is about the reluctance of British Rail in making necessary information available to objectors. My hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth will develop this point when he winds up.
We shall also follow up this point with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. No doubt my hon. Friend will go into it in a little more detail. We shall certainly be seeing the Parliamentary Secretary who is dealing with the closure of branch railways.
By the way, we have just found out that branch railways and the possible closure of lines are dealt with by the Minister for Sports. This suggests that the resources of the improbable within the competence of this Government are not yet exhausted.
My final point relates to the Report itself. There are difficulties about getting reports printed even when they have been prepared but this one is six months out of date. We are dealing with the follies of October and December in the following June, without up-to-date detail about the consequences of those follies.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) did a very great deal to improve the nature and presentation of information for Welsh Members of the House in relation to Welsh questions. He also did a great deal to improve the opportunities to discuss Welsh questions in the House. He has spoken today about the need for increasing the opportunities in Grand Committee. I entirely agree with him. I make two short suggestions. Let the Secretary of State consult my right hon. Friend, who has great experience and has had some success in improving the quality of information and the opportunities for discussion of Welsh affairs in the House. Is it really necessary to wait for the printing in Her Majesty's Stationery Office when the Report is ready, as I suspect it is, a couple of months before it need be printed? Why cannot it be cyclostyled 1296 and made available to Members, and then take its turn as a printed document? This is not without precedent. I commend this to the right hon. and learned Gentleman as a possible way of getting over the very long time lag between the information being provided and the time when we come to discuss it. That is usually fixed after it has been found possible to print it.
Secondly, I commend the cutting down of the verbiage. A good deal more of this can be done. We need statistics rather than syntax. Let the right hon. and learned Gentleman replace the tautology of the paragraph with the clarity of the comparative table. I should go for a report which in essence was a series of statistical tables and appendices. We can all fill in the commentary and the right hon. and learned Gentleman can supplement it by a speech from the Dispatch Box, as he did today.
I hope that the Secretary of State will find time to consider those points.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I am very glad to follow the right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts). He made observations about the closure of the Cambrian line. I do not wish to add to them, save to say that it would a social tragedy if it were to be closed.
He also mentioned the work of James Griffiths when he was Secretary of State for Wales. I did not entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman then. Certainly the technique of providing a corporation I entirely agree with. The special measures are necessary for such areas as Mid-Wales. Where I disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman, then the Member for Llanelly, was in his proposal to bring a population of 70,000 to New Town and to change the whole character of the area, a proposal which was greatly modified by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes). With the modified proposal I entirely agree. With the original proposal I did not.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will not wish to do a disservice to my right hon. Friend the then Member for Llanelly. These were two distinct proposals. The proposal to strengthen and enlarge the 1297 powers of the Mid-Wales Association was separate from the proposals which were canvassed for a large new town.
§ Mr. Hooson
I partially misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. If all he was referring to was the strengthening of the Association, I give him full credit. It was a worthwhile thing to do.
Whilst listening to the debate, I could not help reflecting on something which affects all hon. and right hon. Members. What is the value of a debate such as this one? It has no theme, no issue. We are each raising points that affect our own constituency in a diverse manner. There may be better ways of employing Welsh day in Parliament than this. That is not to say that we do not seize the opportunity of giving matters which affect our constituencies an important airing. But we are in a situation in which we are about to enter the Common Market—or not to enter it. The Common Market will have a great effect on Wales, and yet we have not had a single debate in the House about the effect on Wales of British entry, and the particular situation of Wales.
Entering the Common Market will have a general effect on the United Kingdom as a whole, but it will have a special effect on Wales because of the situation of certain industries. Similarly, if we do not enter the Common Market and we are then forced to rethink, perhaps, our economic posture off the coast of Europe—as we shall be so forced—that also will have important economic effects. Yet neither this Government nor their predecessors when they were proposing entry to the Common Market published anything about the likely effects of entry on industry, agriculture, and so on, in its Welsh context—how it might affect the Welsh cultural and social life which depends very much on the Welsh economy. This debate is on very diverse matters which will be of social rather than historic interest because of the matters we raise on behalf of our constituents, whereas we might have been using the debate for a much larger Welsh national purpose.
The hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) referred to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) as his favourite song bird. I have heard many descriptions of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West but not that of a bird. Having listened to the 1298 optimistic view expressed from the Government benches in these debates and to the pessimistic view expressed on the Opposition benches I cannot help reflecting that it is a case of the same song but a different bird.
I want to ventilate one or two matters which are of particular concern to those who live in Mid-Wales. One of them is the question of the television and radio reception which we enjoy—or do not enjoy—in that area. This affects the quality of life, because we are required to purchase a television licence which costs the same as a television licence in the rest of the country. We are paying this amount for services which we do not receive.
It is argued that it is much more costly per head of the population to bring these services to the rural areas. I accept that. I do not expect rural areas to have precedence over urban areas in this matter. Nevertheless, if we are part of the British economic community, as we undoubtedly are, there is a give and take. Even though it is costly to bring services of this kind to rural areas, they must be brought.
Money has been spent on bringing B.B.C.2, colour television, and so on, to the community at large when in very large areas of Mid-Wales, and I have no doubt in other parts of Wales, it is impossible to receive one service decently; and to receive two is a luxury indeed. One reads about there being very good programmes on B.B.C.2, but there is no hope in the foreseeable future of our receiving them. These questions have been raised in the House over a number of years but little has been done about them. It has been said, "You must pay the same fee and we do not intend to do much to improve your television services".
If we are going in for a kind of economic free for all, which seemed to be what the hon. Member for Flint, West, was suggesting let us remember certain other matters. For example, the urban areas, though they are blessed with very good television reception, are not greatly blessed with water resources and are highly dependent on areas such as ours for their water resources.
I have never been one of those who have argued that we should charge for water to make some great benefit out 1299 of it. I have always argued that we have a great benefit in living as a community as a whole, and I believe in the give and take system. If we are to be deprived of such things as decent television programmes because the Government or the authorities that be are not willing to provide the money to bring them to rural areas, our thinking must change as regards our economic resources—namely, water.
If the urban community is not prepared to foot the bill to bring decent social, education and cultural services to the rural areas, we must consider whether they, in turn, must not pay much more for what is our natural resource—water. They do not pay a thing at present. I am merely asking that the Government should start re-thinking their position on this matter, because people are getting very fed up. I can see that many hon. Members on both sides agree that people living in rural areas are fed up with being at the end of the cultural queue.
Hospitals obviously affect greatly the quality of life, and there is much concern among the community at large about our hospital services. This is a subject upon which public feeling should have the ear of the Government and of the authorities. Nothing so affects human happiness as the availability of good medical services and the accessibility of hospitals to people at large when their relations and friends are in need of them.
This particularly affects people in areas which have a very high percentage of older people. From time to time I have received the most bitter complaints about old people who have been moved away when they need geriatric treatment in long term geriatric units to hospitals which are inaccessible to their relatives and friends. This matter deserves very great attention from the Secretary of State and from the Welsh Hospital Board.
I know that the Minister of State is very sympathetic to the point of view I am expressing, namely, that every district should have its own long-term geriatric unit. I am not talking about the type of unit where very specialised services are needed to provide for old people. I mean that when old people need a long-term stay they should be kept in the district where they have spent their 1300 working lives, so that their friends and relatives can visit them there. I know that in my area there has been a progression in this direction over the last couple of years, but this policy should apply generally throughout Wales.
Mid-Wales is centred as an area on Aberystwyth. I have nothing against that as such, but the specialised services must be available in Aberystwyth if we are to be concentrated on Aberystwyth and those services must make use of the facilities that exist in other Mid-Wales hospitals. Over the border in Shrewsbury there are the most excellent specialist services. I am constantly being asked, "Why cannot we be serviced from Shrewsbury rather than from Aberystwyth? In particular, why on earth do the Government appoint people who are supposed to provide specialist services to Carmarthen and make Mid-Wales depend on them?"
As the Minister of State knows, Shrewsbury is within 18 miles of Welshpool and 14 more miles away from Newtown. It is difficult for ordinary people who are concerned with illnesses, doctors, and so on, to understand why there should be these rigid divisions into hospital areas. Explain it as one will, people always compare the specialist services that are available in places such as Shrewsbury with what are available in Aberystwyth. Either the facilities in Shrewsbury must be made available to the people of Mid-Wales or the facilities in Aberystwyth must be greatly improved. There can be no other solution to the problem. This matter is exciting not only the interest but the great concern of doctor and layman in much of the Mid-Wales area.
The Secretary of State said that the question of local government reform was urgent and that he would press on and introduce legislation. I remember the Rt. Hon. James Griffiths using almost identical words in the Welsh Grand Committee, when he said that Wales could not wait for a Royal Commission on local government reform, the problem was so urgent. It was rubbish then, and it is rubbish now. No one is pressing at the door for great local government reform in Wales.
It would be nonsense for the Government to introduce local government reform before they had had the report of the Crowther Commission—it would not make sense. What is more, on this 1301 issue as well—local government—the considered views of people in our counties and other places should have considerable weight. Local government should of its essence be local. There are certain services controlled locally that I do not disagree should be administered regionally. But the whole matter is not an urgent problem to be dealt with immediately, because there has been so much uncertainty about it in the past. This was the very argument used for not having a Royal Commission in Wales. It does not bear examination now any more than the statement today bears examination. To suggest that we should leave local government for months before, perhaps, the Crowther Commission reports, is nonsense. It burkes common sense.
I am not a Cardiffian and I live a long way from Cardiff, but I have considerable sympathy for the Cardiff view that the capital of Wales at least is entitled to the same kind of status and consideration as Edinburgh in Scotland. I wonder how many hon. Members have read the views of the local Government Royal Commission in Scotland on the status of Edinburgh. Nothing of this kind has even been considered for Cardiff.
I disagree very much with the theme that I thought was present in some of the speeches from hon. Members opposite today. The idea expressed by the hon. Member for Flint, West that we cannot create "artificial" economic conditions, as he described them, is a nonsense. Conditions in much of Wales were due to accident; for example, the population is where the coal was found. It was an accident, and because the population is there, further industry has been taken in there.
I am no believer in going back to the pre-1906 laissez-faire idea of developing the economy of this country, and, in particular, of Wales. We do need a different approach. There is obviously great scope for individual effort and for encouraging it in Wales. There is also scope for Government initiative and Government backing. If I have to declare for investment grants or investment allowances, I would go, from the Welsh point of view, for investment grants every time. If we are to depend only on established companies with sustained rates of growth coming to Wales—and it is only to that 1302 kind of company that investment allowances are attractive—we shall have a very thin time and the rate of growth in Britain generally will have a thin time. We should encourage initiative. Of course, we have some duds in the train of investment grants. There are people who buy machinery that they would not otherwise buy, and who do not use their money sensibly; but other firms have the benefit eventually when they buy them, perhaps more cheaply than they otherwise would.
I beg the Government to bear in mind that the situation in Wales would be infinitely worse than it is but for some Government action in such areas as Mid-Wales to bolster it up, to make up for some of the ravages of the past. Unless the Government appreciate that they must do this in Wales as a whole while at the same time giving greater encouragement to private enterprise, they will come unstuck in Wales.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. John Stradling Thomas (Monmouth)
I was very interested in a number of remarks by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) on the subject of hospitals. I would take the matter a little further than they did, because the problem of travel for the relatives and friends of patients is a very real burden.
Furthermore, I think that economists generally and people who study this rather specialised field are beginning to realise some of the grave disadvantages of the dis-economies of scale. It is becoming more and more clear that, certainly in the rural areas, the provision of very large hospitals and catering establishments is not the key to an efficient hospital service. I have been in some of the large hospitals and have had occasion to remonstrate with staff, asking them who the hospitals were built for—doctors, nurses, administrative staff or patients. Far too often with large-scale administration it is the patient who is left at the end of the queue. This is most unfortunate and must be remedied.
Many important matters have been touched on in respect of the problems of the large rural areas in Wales and Monmouthshire. Earlier in the debate hon. Members referred to public transport in rural areas, a vital aspect of the 1303 environment. In considering local government reform, we talk of resolving the difficulty between town and country. This can never be resolved unless we have a healthy, prosperous and thriving countryside. Otherwise, there will not be the sort of countryside that townsmen look for when they wish to have the benefit of rural amenity. There is much more to examine in this connection. I shall touch on it in a moment or two when I turn to the question of local government reform, which crops up briefly in the introduction to the report.
On the subject of television and radio reception, I happen to be one of those living in a rural area that cannot get decent reception. Until certain standards can be achieved by the broadcasting authorities they should not be entitled to levy a fee there at the same rate as for the rest of the community. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery regretted that we cannot get many decent T.V. programmes. I have heard rural dwellers say that they are happy to be shielded in this respect from so many indecent T.V. programmes.
I was not in entire agreement with the hon. and learned Gentleman when he suggested that there was no hurry for local government reform. That is not true. We know that many authorities are far too small to maintain services to the standards that we have today. We cannot drift on much longer, because the staff of local authorities must surely know what the future holds for them. I speak as one who, coming from the heart of Wales, recognises that Wales is well ahead of England and Scotland in this field. We did not have a Royal Commission, but we had Sir Guildhaume Myrddin-Evans as Chairman of the Local Government Commission for Wales long before anyone started considering the subject in England or Scotland.
§ Mr. Hooson
Can the hon. Gentleman see such urgency that the Government cannot wait a few months until the Crowther Commission's Report is published, when we shall know what its proposals are?
§ Mr. John Stradling Thomas
I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. Obviously, any Government are faced with problems of legislative time- 1304 tables and the working of a new system. I shall say something in a moment or two that rather supports the hon. and learned Gentleman. There are other factors in the way in which we have considered local government reform that still need examination.
I return to the point I made about our early start in Wales. The terms of reference were timid. The Commission was asked to look at the existing state of affairs and suggest what really amounted to a re-jig, with slight amalgamations here and there. That is the pattern that was followed with the draft proposals. We played around between five and seven authorities in Wales and Monmouthshire. We went on to a report presented under the Conservative Government, and then the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) produced his 1967 White Paper, for which he received a fair measure of support. But, once again, there was nothing very radical or revolutionary; it was a rejigging of the pattern of local authority boundaries. Then the right hon. Gentleman managed to achieve something rather remarkable. After the Redcliffe-Maud Report was received he was told to look at his 1967 paper again. He did, and managed to unite almost the whole of Wales in total opposition to his subsidiary proposals.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I want to put the record right. Although I was a member of the Government, the 1967 White Paper was produced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes). As for uniting the whole of Wales, I fear that the hon. Gentleman is correct.
§ Mr. John Stradling Thomas
I am grateful for the correction. Of course I recognise the truth of it.
Let us look back for a moment to the turn of the last century, when local government reform really was tackled. A system which had grown up over the centuries was dealt with firmly. A whole mass of ad hoc authorities were taken together, and the concept of the county council, which we think of as historical but which is nothing of the sort, was brought into play. This was bold and imaginative for the 1880s and 1890s. Here we are in the 1970s, moving towards the 1980s and the 1990s, and what have 1305 we got? We have proposals for new unified health authorities; we have such things as river boards, drainage authorities, electricity boards, gas boards, tourism boards and various transport undertakings. Is this thing really being given a fundamental look at? No.
We have looked at form. We are going to look at finance in the White Paper. But a really bold look at functions has not been attempted or contemplated. That is a great pity. It is not something that I would lay as a criticism at the door of the present Government. It is something that goes right back to the early 1960s. It is essential that any proposals for reform which are carried out now should bear in mind the fact that there is a limit to what is being proposed and it must be so geared that we can take a much more imaginative step forward to meet the needs of the future.
I wholly support what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said about Cardiff. If we are right in England to make special provision for the governmental reform of the capital, London, I cannot see in principle any good reason why the capital city of Wales should not also be singled out for special treatment. I do not want to take up time by quoting figures, but if we take that figure of not less than 250,000 population, it is remarkable that we have the proposal for a vast area like Powis, with a population of barely 100,000, while the capital city of Wales, with a population of 284,000, is to be downgraded to district council status with some accretion of the rural areas around—which, incidentally, I would firmly oppose.
Cardiff, under the present proposals, is to be part of a monster authority. On the one hand, we have Powis with 100,000 population, while the average sort of figure for the new county councils of Wales would be in the 300,000 to 400,000 bracket. We have East Glamorgan under these proposals as a giant with 927,000 population and an income of over £32 million. This seems to be quite disproportionate and out of line with a general rationalisation of local government in the Principality.
Having spoken firmly in support of Cardiff, I must now say where I would draw the line. I do not like the system 1306 of planning that we have had for many years, perhaps inherited from Abercrombie—a great man who, like so many great men, has been betrayed by his disciples—whereby we have green belt that strangles a city until sheer pressure forces it outwards, and no really forward-looking plan. I can find no reason in the consultative document why an already large authority such as the proposed East Glamorgan should gobble up four little parishes in the county of Monmouthshire, thus adding to its already vast population the small number of 2,640 souls, all of whom, with the exception of the minutest handful, are firmly opposed to any such proposal. If consultation means anything, the wishes of the people in the four parishes of Marshfield, Michaelstone-Y-Vedw, Peterstone Wentlooge and St. Mellons should be taken into account. They do not wish to be gobbled up and taken into an urban area. They live in a rural area and wish to remain there.
If there is a new concept of planning, and green belt is to go, and we are to have lateral or linear development, that is another matter. If what the planners want is one long town from Cardiff to Newport, we should be told, because the attitude of the people towards the reform of local government, according to such a plan, would, I am sure, be affected by knowledge of this subject.
My last point touches on the whole subject of town and country. It is proposed that the great bulk of rural Monmouthshire should be put together as district No. 5. In the main, there is a fair degree of acceptance by the local authorities of this proposal, but, of course, it is going to face them with extreme difficulties. Just like Powis as a county council, here is going to be an authority relatively weak financially, with no major industry contributing to the rates, and expected to provide decent services to maintain a rural area which has tremendous beauty and amenity value not just for the residents but for the whole population.
In these circumstances, such matters as television reception, rural transport—factors of that sort which the urban dweller takes for granted and the rural dweller today is entitled to expect in a civilised community—have to be taken into account in the new Green Paper on finance which we are to see. If the 1307 countryside, depopulated as it so frequently is compared with the vast urban complexes, is to carry this burden, there must be clear provision in the Green Paper for ways and means by which these authorities can receive, as of right, a method of maintaining standards which are required from all parts of country and the towns in 1970 and beyond.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) through the delights of rural Monmouthshire. Rather, I would devote my attention to the subject which I think has concentrated the minds of most of us in the debate. This is the problem of unemployment—a problem which I believe is, above all else, the cause of the greatest anxiety among the people of Wales today. In every constituency in Wales, as indeed in other parts of the United Kingdom, there is great concern about the level of unemployment which has come about since this Government took office.
In my constituency of Neath, the level of unemployment in May was worse than in May last year. The percentage of unemployment in the Neath area now stands at 3.2 per cent. This figure is less than that for Great Britain, which was 3.3 per cent. in May, and also much less than that for Wales, which was 4.5 per cent. Although I am thankful that the unemployment position in Neath is below the national average for Wales and the United Kingdom, I am not encouraged about the future when I see that the United Kingdom figure is rising as it is today.
Even in Neath, only this last week we have had cause for concern at an announcement by Messrs. Cam Gears at Resolven that 58 workers at its Neath factory were to lose their jobs at the end of the month because of a fall in orders in the motor industry at home and abroad. This is remarkable. Only a year ago, during the lifetime of the Labour Government, the company at this factory increased its labour force by nearly 400 people, to 1,328. When one knows of this kind of decline, it does not help to answer people like the young man in Neath who recently asked me when he was likely to get new employment after having been out of work for months.
1308 The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks of Wales standing up to the adverse trends better than other development areas. This is no credit to him. The credit belongs to the Labour Government and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), who, while Secretary of State, had to endure misrepresentation on a scale seldom equalled in Wales. Now, at last, in this report, the record is being put straight. Eight advance factories were authorised in March, 1970. The Minister cannot claim credit for those, since he was not even a Member of Parliament at the time.
The report goes on to say that from 1968 to 1970 employment in manufacturing industry in Wales increased by 5.7 per cent. compared with 1.2 per cent. for Great Britain as a whole. Here again, the achievement is that of the Labour Government and not of this present Administration.
The report also talks of the high level of industrial development being enjoyed in Wales in 1970, with 8.8 million square feet of factory space approved, which is higher than in 1969 and substantially higher than the average for the 10 years 1961–70. There is not much credit or comfort here for the right hon. and learned Gentleman either. This only shows how right the Labour Government were to discriminate in favour of development areas such as Wales.
The report also adds emphasis to the charge that the change of regional policy by this Government will mean a return to the anxieties felt in Wales and other development areas during the time when previous Tory Administrations were in power. It adds emphasis to those charges which have been made by us, the Welsh Trade Union Advisory Committee and the Welsh C.B.I, that what this Government are doing in investment grants is to the detriment of Wales, its industry and its people.
The report goes on to tell us that during the year only two collieries were closed, the smallest number for 20 years, and that the decline in the number of mine workers was checked. To anyone who has been concerned with the problem of mining areas of South and North Wales this information is most welcome but it does not lessen our anger at the hardship caused in these areas because 1309 the Coal Board was prevented in past years from dealing with their problems because it was kept short of money by Tory Governments.
We are seeing the same kind of treatment meted out to a publicly-owned industry which is one of the most substantial employers in Wales. I make no apology for referring to the steel industry. I warn this Government that the workers in the steel industry are in no mood to tolerate the same kind of treatment being meted out to them as created the problems in the mining industry in the past. Like the mining industry, the steel industry recognises the need for modernisation and rationalisation if it is to be able to meet and survive international competition. But I again warn the Government against putting their doctrinaire hatred of public ownership before the industrial welfare of this country. If they do, they will make an already disgraceful unemployment situation even worse.
Since steel is such a prominent and large employer of labour in Wales, we would demand of the Secretary of State that in the discussions concerning entry of the E.E.C. he should make it abundantly clear to the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues that neither we nor he will tolerate interference with the investment policies of the steel industry, as is suggested in a Guardian article could well come about.
Another aspect of the report which has been mentioned is the concern with the health services. The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) told us of his concern about hospitals in his constituency. I share an identification with him in a minor respect, in that he is a native of my constituency while I am a native of his. I hope that the Secretary of State will take great care to consider what the hon. Member said. I know that there is great concern at the possible rundown of hospitals there.
The report says that there is an improvement in the ratio of general practitioners to patients in Wales. This will be welcomed. But there is one aspect of our health services which continues to worry the public, and that concerns the improvements which are to be made in regard to the increase in facilities to treat mental illness. Since the regrettable report on Ely Hospital, considerable attention has been paid to bringing up to 1310 standard the existing mental hospitals. The local authorities have also played their part by providing purpose-built accommodation for dealing with the elderly and mentally infirm. Such places as the home at Gorphwysfa in my constituency have done much excellent work.
We in South Wales ask that this process should continue, so that we shall be able to have new hospital accommodation to treat those suffering from mental ill-health, so that the present situation over Ely and Hensal, where admissions are being refused because of lack of accommodation, can be rectified. This problem bears heavily on those who suffer from mental ill-health and on the families who have to look after them. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to give his urgent attention to ensuring that a new mental hospital in South Wales is not long delayed. We also need more geriatric accommodation. Members of Parliament come up against this problem frequently, and I hope that the Minister of State will be able to say something about increasing the provision of new accommodation for the treatment of the mentally ill and for the care of geriatrics.
The Report is in many ways a vindication of the Labour Government and of my right hon. Friend. Those aspects of it which show that advances have been made are the result of the decisions the Labour Government made when the present Secretary of State for Wales was not with us, and when the Tory Party was sitting on these benches in opposition. Judging by recent election results, it will not be long before the Tories are back here again.
The anxieties felt in Wales today are to be found not in this report but in rising unemployment, falling industrial investment, industrial closures and rising prices, most of which, if not all, the Prime Minister promised to "cut at a stroke" at the time of the General Election a year ago. We do not look forward with confidence to next year's report. Judging by the performance of the Government so far and their record of failures, we have good reason to be apprehensive about the future for Wales.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Speaker
Since I last mentioned the length of speeches we have done fairly well, but not quite well enough. In about 1311 120 minutes I shall call on the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) to wind up for the Opposition, and there are at least a dozen hon. and right hon. Members who still wish to speak. The deduction is obvious.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Morgan (Denbigh)
I shall apply to myself the self-denying ordinance that has been called for and will deal with two points only; first, communications, and, if I have time local government reform.
I do not want to enter into arid controversy about who planned what stretch of road; there is no purpose to be served by that. I was very glad that my right hon. and learned Friend at the meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee on 28th April was able to announce two important developments in particular. The first was a further step in the completion of plans for the M4 motorway across South Wales, and the second was the £1 million scheme in North Wales to provide dual carriageways on the A55 Chester to Bangor trunk road, which will link the terminal roundabout of the Abergele bypass to the Flintshire county boundary. We all welcome this. However, my right hon. and learned Friend on that occasion did not deal with the future strategy of road building in Wales generally, and I hope that the Welsh Office will now give earnest consideration to an adequate north-south route, bearing in mind that Wales is becoming increasingly one administrative unit.
Twenty years ago an old friend of mine from Merioneth said to me that on grounds of equity the Governing Body of the Church of Wales had decided to meet at Llandrindod Wells because it was equally inaccessible from all parts of Wales. The same is virtually true today. The former Administration were right, and certainly had the support of hon. Members on this side of the House, when they decided in 1965 to give priority to east-west routes, but the time has now come to give high priority to an adequate road linking the capital and the north.
I have already mentioned in the Welsh Grand Committee the desirability of the Government re-enacting the Agriculture (Improvement) of Roads Act, 1955. It is a matter of great regret to me that 1312 the previous Conservative Administration in 1962 refused to consider an extension of that Statute. It was a modest one and appropriated only about £2 million altogether, about £1 million of which was spent in the Principality. Few Acts have had such beneficial results at such small cost. Unfortunately, the last Administration also refused to consider the re-enactment of this Act, but there is now an opportunity for the new Government to have fresh ideas, and I hope they will bear this in mind.
My last point on communications may seem parochial in the context of this wide-ranging debate, but I make no apology for raising it because it is a matter of great importance to thousands of my constituents and, I venture to think, thousands of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Wyn Roberts) as well. Mention of the word "Collcon" I am sure is enough to bring the matter sharply to the recollection of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State. This burning issue has not only been raised several times in the House and in the Welsh Grand Committee, but has also been the subject of an immense amount of correspondence with the Welsh Office, if only that which I have passed on myself.
Briefly, the position is as follows. A scheme was published by the Welsh Office in September, 1968 proposing an expressway not around but right through the Borough of Colwyn Bay, which is the biggest town not only in my constituency but also along the whole North Wales coast. Four routes were suggested, all running right through the borough. The favoured one, according to the report, was Route "C". Although it would have done less damage than any of the others put forward for consideration, it would nevertheless have involved the destruction of a large number of houses and the blighting of many more.
Needless to say, there was considerable and immediate opposition to all these proposals in the borough and, seeking to reflect the public opinion of Colwyn Bay as best I could in a Welsh day debate which fortuitously followed about a month after the publication of these proposals in October, 1968, I asked the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) to inquire into the possibility of an alternative bypass route 1313 running to the south of and outside the borough. Such a route would avoid the damage to property and the social upheaval that would result from the implementation even of the least damaging route suggested in the Collcon Report. It was, of course, accepted on all hands that a bypass was necessary. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to accede to this request, but that was in October, 1968. Not only are we still awaiting the decision of the Welsh Office on this matter, but I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend is still awaiting the consultants' report with regard to it. I mention this because there have been Press reports, which I believe to be erroneous, that the consultants' report has already reached him. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal with this matter when he winds up.
I appreciate that complex engineering difficulties are involved in a report of this kind, and I would certainly prefer the Secretary of State to come to the right conclusion after proper consideration rather than to come to the wrong one quickly. But he will, I am sure, bear in mind that nearly three years have passed since the news first broke, and that these have been agonising years for the people whose property has been threatened. They have been living under a sword of Damocles ever since. In a sense, the people whose homes would be blighted if this favoured route were adopted would be in a worse position than those whose homes were threatened with destruction, because of the uncertain position about compensation.
I would stress that I was informed last year in answer to a Parliamentary Question that the consultants' report would be in the hands of the Secretary of State by April this year, and then I was told that it would be in June. I appreciate that specialists are difficult people to hurry, and, as I have said, I would not wish my right hon. Friend to come to a hasty conclusion, but I hope that he will be able to assure the House that he will have the report in his hands and be able to announce a decision before the House adjourns from the Summer Recess.
I wish to say a few words about local government reform. I am glad that my right hon. Friend referred to this matter and said that he will press forward with 1314 it. I am sure he means it, and I certainly hope that he does. We in Wales have been living with proposals for local government reform for much longer than any other part of the United Kingdom. We were specifically chosen as a "guinea pig" for the purpose of implementing the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1958, indeed, the Welsh local Government Commission commenced its work long before the Redcliffe-Maud Commission was ever heard of.
It cannot fairly be said that any Secretary of State or Government has lacked advice on this matter. There has been advice in plenty and there have been many changes of view. Let us consider one or two of them. There were the Draft Proposals of 1961, the first production of the Commission. There were the ironically termed "Final Proposals" of 1963. There was then the White Paper of 1967. That was followed, in 1969, by the change of mind by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West. I do not wish to push any sort of wedge between the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) and his absent right hon. Friend, the Member for Cardiff, West, but I would remind the House that they took a very different view in the Welsh Grand Committee on one particular matter which I shall mention in a moment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will stand fast by what he then said.
I will continue with this long catalogue of developments. There was the abortive White Paper on local government reform in Glamorgan and Monmouth put forward by the right hon. Gentleman in 1970. It was abortive not only because the General Election occurred shortly afterwards, but also because of public opposition even before that election. We now have the present consultative document.
I welcome the pattern generally, but it would not be appropriate to talk about it in detail tonight.
I wish to make two particular points, the first of which concerns Cardiff. I strongly associate myself with those on both sides of the House who firmly believe that some special status should be accorded to the capital city. I do not think it is good enough that Cardiff should have only district council status.
1315 The other matter touches the North Wales counties—of which, according to the consultative document, there are to be two. I still believe that the best solution in this respect appeared in the 1967 White Paper which was produced by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) and which recommended only one North Wales County. It may be said that this is something of a "dead duck" since both Front Benches are agreed upon the two-county solution and even the Denbighshire County Council, hitherto my mainstay in this argument, has changed its mind on this matter in the last few weeks. I suspect that it has only done so because it is desperately anxious to find some final solution to this problem. Even at this late hour, I would still ask my right hon. Friend to have one last long look at this problem.
There are two matters in particular which would justify the constitution of one large county and they have already been put forward in the Welsh Grand Committee. One important consideration is that it would make for easier planning of communications in North Wales, certainly along the coast. The problem of the "Collcon" bypass through Colwyn Bay, to which I have already referred, could have been avoided if there had been a unified planning authority in Wales some 20 years ago. It is also desirable that there should be a large administrative unit in North Wales as a counterpoise to the large ones in the south and on Merseyside.
I welcome the determination of the Government to end the unsettling uncertainty that has beset Welsh local government for at least a decade. It has been a matter for surprise to me that Welsh local authorities have been able to recruit officers during this period. It is a matter for congratulation to the people concerned that they have served the Welsh public in so dedicated a way over these barren years.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
It is my privilege this year to chair the Welsh Labour Group. Whatever doubts exist as to whom Government Ministers represent, there can be no doubt whatever that hon. Members in the Welsh Labour Group represent the majority of people in Wales.
1316 In the short time at my disposal I shall not range over a whole number of subjects, but instead concentrate on two topics. I believe that history will record that there is a chasm in the order of priorities in Wales between the silenter majority and the high vocal minority. The majority is concerned with employment, industry, development and the need to ensure the right to work and to see that such a fundamental human right can be exercised within Wales.
I deprecate very much the change that has taken place from a system of grants to one of allowances. Industrial opinion in Wales will confirm that such a policy militates against the bringing of jobs to Wales in an effort to ensure that our people can find employment within their own land. The Labour Government, of which I had the privilege to be a member, was an interventionist Government. We faced the challenge of the second industrial revolution. We were faced with difficulties, and no preparations had been made prior to our term of office to see that the old traditional industries provided the right job opportunities. We tackled this matter because we believed in intervening, but, regrettably, we were not allowed to finish the job. Instead, today we have the palsied hand of the present Government, an incompetent Administration which does not believe in ensuring that the people of Wales should be provided with the jobs which are so necessary. It must be heartbreaking for the sincere officials in the Departments in Cardiff, who are charged with the job of ensuring that new industries are brought into Wales, to be provided with such inadequate weapons in view of the Government's "lame duck" philosophy.
The order of priorities of the minority is wholly different. They have created a regrettable atmosphere of intolerance, hatred and malice in Wales. Although I believe that everyone has the right to take part in discussions and in robust controversy, which is a great part of our inheritance in Wales, the matter has gone much further. There can be no monopoly in loving or working for the language of Wales. We are conscious that time is not on the side of the language. If it is to survive, if the nation's resources are to be maximised, then it will do so only where it is backed by the will of the 1317 nation as a whole and where this is made manifest. This can only happen in an atmosphere of tolerance rather than one of intolerance.
Regrettably, in Wales today no regard has been paid to the work which was done by the Labour Government, and I very much hope that good will exists in the present Government towards the language. We have seen nations of the world split, divided and torn apart because of colour, race and politics—indeed, because of religion in a country on our own doorstep. I believe passionately in the unity of Wales, the Welsh people and the need for tolerance. If the language is to survive, it can only be done in an atmosphere of unity, rather than in an atmosphere which creates the backlash which nourishes enemies, since the existence of our language needs and demands friends. I hope that those who campaign on these matters will think again. If we are to build a better Wales, we must do so in an atmosphere of tolerance of which we have been so proud in the past.
I should like in my final remarks to take up the major theme of the prospects of the Welsh economy as a whole. The hon. and learned Member for Motgomery (Mr. Hooson) spoke about the future of Wales in the Common Market. We hear very little about it. We know little about what the balance sheet is to be. If in the next few months an irrevocable step is to be taken whereby Wales with Britain finds itself in the Common Market, it is the duty of the Secretary of State to go from one part of Wales to another and explain to the people of Wales where they stand. I do not know how many public meetings in Wales the right hon. and learned Gentleman has held on the subject. I do not know whether he has held any public meetings in Wales at all. However, it is incumbent upon the Government to explain to the people of Wales where they stand, industry by industry and class by class. So far, they have not been told.
To take one section of the community, Welsh hill farmers are told that they may be provided for within the machinery of the Common Market. But what is the Government's intention towards them? I went home last weekend and asked some of my many brothers engaged in Welsh agriculture. They are 1318 mystified about how long the present grant procedures and support systems are to last. They want to know, and their bank managers want to know. What kind of advice do the Government give to Welsh hill farmers?
I take another section of the community, our dairy farmers. Only last night I approached the Milk Marketing Board with a view to trying to get some bankable assurances. Only a few years ago there was a great controversy in the land. Farmers in the South-East of England were in revolt because of the transport pricing arrangements. The present system is that transport prices are pooled, and as a result farmers in Wales derive great advantage. The controversy came before my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) when he was Minister of Agriculture, and my right hon. Friend, rejected the contentions of farmers in the South-East. But can the Secretary of State say whether it is within the power of the Milk Marketing Board to continue the pooling of transport pricing arrangements if we enter the Common Market? Will such a policy, which could be said to distort the economy be allowed? Is it within the Government's power to continue it? When I inquired last night, I was given no bankable assurance on the basis of which a young man in Wales wanting to set up in dairying could go to his bank manager and ask what sort of price he could expect to get.
Then I consider our old-age pensioners, those on fixed incomes and the hundreds of people in our rural areas who are on very low incomes. Where do they stand? The Government may say that we shall have limited control of our economy, but when hundreds of millions of £s have to be paid across the exchanges to buttress inefficient French farming, how much money will be left in the economy to assist the less well off?
I turn finally to the steel industry. As an hon. Member who represents one of the most important steel-producing areas in the country, I was aghast when I read the article in the Guardian yesterday. I was equally aghast at the un-briefed appearance of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, since the right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared 1319 to know nothing about the fact that the lid seemed to have been lifted on this controversy. The Guardian article said that the Coal and Steel Community was playing high politics in that it was determined to ensure that no steel-producing corporation in Europe should produce more than 20 million tons a year. At the moment the British Steel Corporation is producing 26 million tons a year. There are plans to increase that to 35 million tons by 1975 and to 40 million tons by 1980. If we join the Common Market, will the B.S.C. be allowed to increase production, or will it fall foul of those who will regulate it from Brussels?
That is the kind of balance sheet that we require. It is what every steel worker, ever farm workers, every dairy farmer and every old-age pensioner demands. One could go through the whole of Wales industry by industry. That is the kind of balance sheet that is required, and it would be wrong to leave this debate without challenging the Secretary of State. We all know of the great interest in Wales about the proposals for a new green field site for the steel industry. However, all this is pie-in-the-sky if we go into the Common Market. The balance sheet looks pretty grim at present. Whatever the embarrassed official of the Foreign Office said at 10 o'clock last night in reply to the newspapers, the British Steel Corporation will have only a very limited power if the Iron and Steel Community parcels out Europe's total steel production amongst the producing countries.
These are some of the matters which cause anxiety in Wales. It is the responsibility of the Government, when we are poised to take one of the most important decisions ever to have faced this House, to tell the people of Wales where they stand. This is not a matter of fish, New Zealand produce, or sugar. It concerns the livelihood of the Welsh people, and each and every segment demands an answer. It is the duty of the Secretary of State to go from one end of Wales to the other and explain what the position is now that we are almost at the point of joining. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will receive a pretty dusty answer on the basis of the balance sheet as we now understand it.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North)
The right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) made a moving and brilliant speech about the language, and he pleaded that the subject should be dealt with in an atmosphere of unity. For that reason, I propose to say a few words about the problem of bilingual road signs, since it has become a matter of great concern and has given rise to comments from members of the Welsh community of eminence and distinction in the last few years.
To young people in Wales, especially in the Welsh-speaking areas, the bilingual road sign is a symbol. They see it in the context of a language which is dying, and they attach the highest priority to the preservation of the language. To our young people the bilingual road sign has become a symbol of the good faith of the authorities.
There are those who argue that there are other priorities, and that spending the sums involved on nursery schools or on homes for old-age pensioners would give better value for money. However, those who take that view are assessing the situation on the criterion of material investment. Many young people from the Welsh-speaking areas would gladly accept a lower standard of life for themselves if they could help to preserve the Welsh language. Other people disagree. They have their priorities. But I have no hesitation in saying that an imaginative gesture from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State along the lines of saying that over a period of five or six years the matter would be settled throughout the whole of the Principality as the money became available would result in a great deal being done to achieve that atmosphere of unity which the right hon. Member for Aberavon said was so essential.
My right hon. and learned Friend spoke in terms of the consultative documents being a subject for the Grand Committee. For that reason, I shall not comment on the details of proposals for local government reform. However, I wish to express concern for the status of the capital city. It is one which is widespread throughout the Principality and has found expression today in the speeches of the 1321 hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. John Stradling Thomas) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Geraint Morgan).
A capital city is an institution which helps to give a sense of national identity. It helps to create a feeling of belonging to Wales as a nation. Other capital cities—London, Edinburgh and Paris—have had hundreds of years to develop the ethos which makes their contribution so important to the lives of their respective nations. Our capital city has had only 17 years.
Many people throughout Wales—I suggest that the number is increasing—feel that only if the capital retains its functions of local government can it adequately fulfil its rôle as a focal point in our national life. Wales has very special needs, and I trust that my right hon. and learned Friend will reconsider his proposals with these in mind.
I welcome the reference, as I did when the announcement was made in the Welsh Grand Committee, to the high priority to be given to the completion of the M4 and outer Cardiff bypass. This announcement was welcomed throughout South Wales. My right hon. and learned Friend should know that it was probably received with greater enthusiasm in the area of Gabalva and Llandaff North than in any other part of the Principality. In that area at the moment there are proposals for two major urban motorways, the so-called river route and the so-called railway route, to cut through one small community. When the people of that area heard that high priority was to be given to the outer bypass, a policy which they have advocated over many years, they felt that at last the blight which has rested on their homes and property would be speedily removed. I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise the grave anxiety which has existed in that community for a number of years and will expedite his negotiations with the Cardiff City Council so that this worry can be completely removed.
I conclude by referring to the importance to the capital city of the East Moors Steel Works. It has the economic asset of having adjacent to it the massive market of the G.K.N. works. It has a 1322 modern ore-discharging system on a port-based site, and three-quarters of its plant is in modern good order equipment—blast furnaces, re-rolling equipment and ore handling. However, it needs substantial investment in terms of steel making. It has the men, the management and the expertise of skilled labour, which means that this site for steel making is in no sense a "lame duck". It has all the potential for a highly successful investment. I trust that the Secretary of State will use his considerable influence to ensure that the claims of East Moors are not in vain.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
Inevitably the main question in a debate on Welsh affairs, with the highest unemployment figure in the Principality for 24 years, is: how can the economy of Wales be rendered more buoyant, thus creating more demand, and, therefore, more employment?
The people of the Principality are entitled to ask the Government whether they are satisfied with the flow of financial investment to industry in Wales. There can be only one answer to that, an emphatic No, since industrial expansion has slowed down to a marked degree compared with achievements in this direction by the Labour Government.
The Introduction to the Report on page xvi states:The replacement of investment grants by investment allowances, and the other changes in incentives announced towards the end of the year, are designed to attract profitable and viable enterprises to the assisted areas, including most of Wales, so as to provide lasting employment.That paragraph should be of essential importance, but paradoxically it is essentially inaccurate.
I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman where the viable and profitable enterprises which have been attracted are located. In constituency terms I should be delighted if he said that some were in the city of Swansea. We would welcome any of these enterprises to offset the closure losses which we have sustained and the redundancies created by the closure of the Swansea Vale Works of the Imperial Smelting Corporation. Unfortunately no large-scale job restitution process has taken place. We should be glad to hear any such welcome news.
1323 If the Government introduce the value-added tax, will the Secretary of State see to it that the ship repairing industry in the Bristol Channel is zero rated? I should like an answer to that question when the Minister of State replies.
I have often put questions to the Secretary of State about the advantage of investment grants as opposed to investment allowances now introduced by the Government. We find that it is militating against the total of job prospects in the next four years. Job prospects are too small; they do not offset redundancy or unemployment totals. Firms which would otherwise come to Wales are forced to cancel expansion plans because of changes in the financial incentives provided by the Government. This is serious for the Principality. A change in financial incentives prevents the coming to Wales of modern self-generating industry which will help Wales and assure the future of its people.
A survey conducted by the Welsh section of the Confederation of British Industry puts forward the claim that the cut back in expansion is the result of the change in incentives rather than the general state of the economy. This assertion is polarised against facts provided by an answer from the Secretary of State on 24th May that the total prospect of jobs for the next four years in Wales is 25,200. I place that against the staggering Welsh total of unemployed. The figures should be seen in their proper perspective. Only 17,800 of that total are jobs for men. The rest, 7,400, are jobs for women. Clearly, the total of 25,200 is unimpressive and not enough. I should like to know how many young people in Wales under 24 have no jobs and how many under 18 have no jobs. The figures are available, so I am sure that the Minister of State can give them in his reply. I think that the total is inordinately high.
Since 90 per cent. of Wales is a development area, I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend to a Report in the Sunday Observer of 6th June which speaks of a survey conducted by the Welsh section of the C.B.I, which claims that the allowances paid against tax profits are infinitely inferior to the direct grant system operated by the Labour Government. 1324 Indeed the writer claims that the report was to be presented to the C.B.I. yesterday and would form the basis of representations to the Secretary of State requesting a change in the system of industrial incentives in Wales. It is obvious that the fiscal changes introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer have not operated in Wales to attract industry and have not operated to reduce unemployment. The Secretary of State for Wales must request the Chancellor to pump more money into the Welsh economy.
The Chairman of the C.B.I. in Wales, Mr. Neil Taylor, reported in the Sunday Observer, said:The last Budget took a few halting steps in the direction of giving greater encouragement to the investor, but we are in a state of semi-depression now in Wales that requires a far more major shot in the arm.That is trenchant criticism from the Tory friends of the Front Bench opposite. That publicly expressed view underlines the gravity of the situation and is a warning, emphatically stated, to the Government that they have been tried in the balance and found wanting by their friends, not to say the electors. I ask the Minister to tell us what plans exist for stimulating investment, and therefore employment, in the Principality. The hon. Gentleman has a clear duty to answer that question.
I now turn to another matter, which has been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris), and that is the matter of the Common Market. During the last few weeks I have put Question after Question to the Secretary of State on various matters which, as I see them in a Welsh connotation, if we by any mischance enter the Common Market, will do great and incalculable harm to the Welsh people and their future prospects.
Appropriately enough, the Welsh Regional Council of the C.B.I. is studying the effects of this country's membership of the Common Market, and in the South Wales Evening Post of 18th May, 1971, there is the opinion:These members were said to be reflecting a fear among some people in Wales and in some sections of Welsh industry that the Community may seek some degree of control over investment and that, if priorities are to be established in Brussels rather than in Whitehall, there could be adverse effects for the Welsh economy and for Welsh industry.1325 In Swansea last Friday the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. He said that this issue had been agreed upon, but there was no sense of unanimity. Barbados was against the proposal. What the right hon. Gentleman did not say to the housewives of Wales was that sugar in the Common Market is 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. dearer on leaving the refinery than it is in Britain, and if there is added to that the cost of distribution to the point of retail sale, it is 50 per cent. dearer over there than it is here.
As it has been said that Welsh officials visited Brussels, I ask the Minister to tell us who the officials were, and what their status was. Is it not derogatory that Wales, a nation, should not have her Secretary of State as one of the negotiators in Brussels? Here I commend the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan), who has tabled a Question to the right hon. Gentleman seeking information about that matter.
I ask the Minister to tell us whether, on the question of prices, he has seen the answer given by his right hon. Friend that at the end of the transitional period prices will be 18 per cent. to 26 per cent. higher than they are now. When that increase is imposed on top of the already record increase in prices suffered under the Tory Government during the last year, one gets some idea of the true position.
I drew the Minister's attention to the remarkable statement made yesterday by the Minister of Agriculture. When referring to the Prime Minister's statement to cut prices, the right hon. Gentleman said that he did not think housewives took the speech all that seriously.Housewives are far more sensible than that. They knew very well that we could not cut prices at a stroke.That is the prospectus on which the Government were elected. They perpetrated the greatest political confidence trick of the century, and they will pay the penalty for that by losing at least two Welsh Conservative Members at the next election.
When we talk about prices, we should remember that French agriculture is the most inefficient in Europe. There is a block vote in France of 8 million among 1326 the farming community, and France does not ignore that, nor will she in the negotiations. We have the most efficient agriculture industry in the world. Are English and Welsh housewives to subsidise inefficient French farmers for the sake of the grandiose dreams of the Government? We have a right to know.
I now propose to deal with the question of capital outflow. Article 67 of the Treaty of Rome says that member states will have no control over capital outflow. If, by any mischance, we go into the Common Market, does the Minister believe that large-scale investment from multi-national concerns will go to Wales? The answer is that it will not. These firms will maximise the Conservative maxim of increased profits, and they will attract industry away from Wales to the Low Countries. They will attract away investment, and therefore employment.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. David Gibson-Watt)
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's argument, which is strongly against this country's going into the Common Market. Would he not admit that when the Labour Government were in office they reconnoitred carefully the possibilities of going into Europe?
§ Mr. McBride
The Labour Government considered the question and in the end decided that they would wait to see what the terms were before joining. That is the position. In Wales, where the hon. Gentleman lives, and where he has business interests, in the proportion of 4 to 1—and the hon. Gentleman can deny me if he can—the people are against entry into the Common Market.
§ Mr. Walter Clegg (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)
In view of what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, it is strange that the Labour Party should have decided to negotiate with the E.E.C.
§ Mr. McBride
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who has broken the monastic calm of the Government Whips' Office, can give the same answer for England.
§ Mr. McBride
I am sure that the Minister would like to know what was said by the Chairman of the Welsh Old Age Pensioners' Association at its meeting at 1327 Porthcawl last Sunday. His comment was:It appears that Mr. Heath and his colleagues are going as fast as their heels can take them in a bid to rush Britain into the Six.Evidently the Prime Minister did not go to Bromsgrove, or he might have had a different idea.
There are other matters about which we are concerned, and I believe that a full explanation must be given to the Welsh people of the advantages and the disadvantages of going into the Common Market. One of the terms of monetary union is that the Governments of member states do not have full control over regional policy. Do the Government intend to sign that agreement, knowing that with capital outflow taking investment and industry away from Wales, the prospects for progress in Wales will be further inhibited? Will the Government agree to that? The Welsh people have a right to know. The populous area on the south coast, with most of the industry located there, has a right to know.
The explanation given by the Secretary of State in Swansea last week about the Common Market was rather sketchy. He did not mention anything except sugar and he forgot to mention the disadvantages there. Clearly there will be many problems for industry as a result of harmonisation. There are 3,000 to 4,000 items of case law in existence in the Community. If Welsh industry has to go into the E.E.C. it will have to become familiar with this case law. We will have a lawyers' paradise. [Interruption.] They sit around me nodding approvingly. We have a right to an answer to our questions about future economic prospects, the buoyancy of the economy, alterations in the fiscal system and we are entitled to a full explanation of what will happen to Wales if by any mischance we enter the E.E.C.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) down the Common Market trail except to say that we have heard one side of the argument. The other day I took part in a debate at Cardiff University during which both sides were presented. I am glad to say that a substantial majority voted 1328 in favour of Britain and Wales entering the Community. My right hon. and learned Friend referred in his opening remarks to future debates in the Welsh Grand Committee on local government reform. All that I need to say is that Pembrokeshire is as much united in its distaste for his proposals as it was united in its distaste for the proposals of his predecessor.
In one important respect there has been an improvement, because my right hon. and learned Friend is prepared to listen to argument whereas the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) regarded any comment or criticism, whether by those in high or low positions, as an act of impertinence. My right hon. and learned Friend has shown that he will listen and this gives us cause for hope, because we believe that we have an unanswerable case. It is a case for which we will continue to fight with unwavering determination.
There have been two considerable difficulties facing hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in the debate. First, there has been the difficulty of avoiding repetition of the frequent debates we have recently had on this subject in the Welsh Grand Committee. Secondly, the source of our inspiration is based upon this document "Wales: 1970". If that were the only source it would be a barren prospect, so barren that one is bound to ask what is the purpose of a document of this kind. I am not blaming this Government for its obvious shortcomings. [Laughter.] This document is no better and no worse than the documents produced by their predecessors.
Not one has contained a new fact, new information, anything that was not known months before its production. If, before the enlargement of the Welsh Digest of Statistics some few snippets of news could occasionally be found in the Annual Report if published in March, it would still have some relevance to matters of contemporary interest. But published in June it has no more value than a great deal of the other material which goes into the wastepaper baskets of hon. and right hon. Members.
A sentence in my right hon. and learned Friend's foreword suggests that this may be his view too. I hope that this will be the last document of this 1329 kind that we will see and instead we will have something more valuable. What I believe we need, in addition to the annual statistics in an enlarged and elaborate form, are detailed reports of certain key areas for which the Welsh Office is responsible, an account of its stewardship in its prime responsibilities. I shall have more to say later about one important area, namely, transport and particularly the progress of the road construction programme.
If this week's consultative document on the reorganisation of the Health Service is translated into legislation my right hon. and learned Friend will be assuming major new responsibilities in the administration of the hospital service. What we will need is a very full and detailed report on the way in which the Welsh Office has exercised those responsibilities. If the staff are to produce studies of that kind it will have no time for out-dated superficialities of this kind.
I want to turn to a vital matter for which the Welsh Office is already responsible. On the last occasion when we had Welsh Questions, on 24th May I asked the Secretary of State whether he would establish an inquiry, either on a departmental basis or in co-operation with the Welsh Council, to make a comprehensive re-examination of the transport requirements of the Principality. He replied:The Welsh Council will continue to pay particular attention to the public transport situation in Wales and will report its conclusions to me. In the circumstances I do not think a further inquiry is necessary."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th May, 1971; Vol. 818, c. 7.]A few days later, during the Whitsun Recess, the Welsh Council issued its report which includes a comment already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). Paragraph 20 of this report says:We are however firmly of the opinion that passenger services in rural areas, indeed in all parts of Wales, must be looked at comprehensively and to this end have recommended that a major research project be undertaken to provide the basis for such a transport policy. In the meantime decisions on the future of particular services should not be made on an ad hoc basis. The Council are strongly of the view that the retention of a basic network of public passenger transport services is an all-Wales problem, and have recommended to the Secretary of State that it must be dealt with accordingly.1330 On Tuesday, in the "Good Morning Wales" programme the new Chairman of the Welsh Council, appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend, said that we needed something to look at the whole strategy for Welsh transport. In the light of that paragraph and that remark I find the reply of my right hon. and learned Friend puzzling. I am at a loss to understand, at a time when the Welsh Council is recommending a major research project, how the Government can think that no further inquiry is necessary.
If the Government are rejecting the Welsh Council's view they must say so and give their reasons. I can think of only one reason that would be acceptable, that the Welsh Office already has all the evidence it needs and on the basis of that evidence has prepared a comprehensive plan and that my right hon. and learned Friend or the Minister of State is about to present this plan to an expectant and frankly astonished House. I fear that this is not so because if it is what the Government have managed to do it will be a remarkable achievement. We all know that the cupboard the Government opened on 19th June was filled with nothing but skeletons and that the only conception of forward planning in these matters known to the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West who presided over Welsh affairs in the last Administration was to utter a prayer that all would be forgiven later.
I had intended to elaborate on what I regard as the calamitous shortcomings of the Labour Government's road building programme, about which the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West was surprisingly proud today. However, in view of Mr. Speaker's injunction, I will move on to what is now a more important question, and that is the action being taken by the present Government to put aside their disastrous inheritance.
Certainly there has been a speeding up, but it must be seen against the fact that the Labour programme bore no relationship whatever to the needs of Wales. A change in investment incentives will make sense only if it is matched by a dramatic increase in expenditure on the communications system.
But it is not simply a question of allocating resources. We must see that the maximum return is obtained in the 1331 shortest possible time. This means long-term planning, roving budgets and a continual reassessment of organisation and management techniques. Planning procedures in this over-crowded island are complex and I am not satisfied that the time lag between preparation and completion cannot be drastically reduced.
There is one action which the Secretary of State could take immediately to stimulate efficiency—it would also vastly aid Parliament in its task of passing judgment—and this brings me to my earlier theme. There is need to present, in a completely new way and on an annual basis, a report on the road programme. It is today too easy for Secretaries of State—this applies to Ministers of both parties—to get away with it. It is too easy to dampen criticism by producing a long series of figures and statistics that are unrelated to anything that has gone before.
At present we form our judgment on a bewildering combination of annual statistics which are presented in Parliamentary Answers, statements and announcements to the Grand Committee. The sort of annual report of which I am speaking would show not just total expenditure but details of the roads planned, target timetables, the amount constructed and maps showing the development of the system. This information is badly needed.
Apart from roads, we are concerned with the whole transport picture and the relationship of the various parts of communications, one with another. For example, in West Wales the railway system is as important as roads, but as yet there has been no announcement about the Government's review of un-remunerative but necessary lines. It is high time that we had it.
We need a careful examination of the inter relationship between different transport systems and the way in which they dovetail. We are entitled to examine the various aspects of the railways, particularly those which are subsidised, and the way the services are provided.
Indeed, it is not only a question of roads and railways. International industrialists and businessmen must, if they are to be attracted to Wales, have air services, both internally and linking us to the rest of Britain. It was not good enough for the Government to have simply told us that Cambrian Airways' 1332 London service was withdrawn in February, 1970, through lack of support, after only six weeks in operation. A project of that kind needed Government research and perhaps Government backing, certainly in its early stages.
How many people knew that the service existed in those six weeks? A Welsh Council investigation is required, along with a detailed annual report. I ask for both to be provided because nothing will do more for Wales than an unprecedented improvement in the transport system. It lies within the power of my right hon. and learned Friend to stimulate that improvement and to undo the years of Socialist indolence. I trust that he will seize the opportunity.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
This is a general debate on Welsh affairs, though it is traditionally regarded as lying somewhere between an annual company report and a preaching festival. It is, of course, mainly a debate to take note of the Report "Wales: 1970".
This report is one of the most complacent, banal and fatuous documents I have ever seen. A law reporter in the 18th century was so inaccurate that it was said of him that he would dutifully listen to one half of a case and then report the other half. Many of us must have wondered as we read this report whether this was the Wales in which we and our constituents lived.
The layman would have every justification in thinking that Wales was a land of prosperity and promise presided over by a dedicated and energetic Secretary of State whose sole aim was to discharge his Welsh duties. In fact, it is a report couched in the most euphoric terms, completely unrelated to Wales, which as a country and nation has in the last 12 months seen a noble and dedicated regional experiment completely and wantonly destroyed.
A substantial part of the report is given to listing the apparent achievements of the Government, parading them like a Roman triumph, but some of the trumpet blasts of righteousness have been off key. For example, the paragraph about advance factories contained no comment about the fact that in 1970, the year under review, the nine advanced factories announced were all announced in the six 1333 months when the Labour Government were in office. Not one was announced in the remaining six months.
We are told on page 37 that difficulties affecting road passenger transport services had arisen because of the "acute shortage of drivers". Do hon. Gentlemen opposite really believe that the Welsh people will be taken in by that sort of excuse? There was no mention of the fact that in 1970 a company like Colville, which operates four-fifths of the services in Wales, lost 9 million fares. That had nothing to do with the issue of drivers.
What is the value of a report which makes such a trite and idiotic suggestion? It would be better if hon. Gentlemen opposite would direct their literary talents to producing such spendid creations as their Tory pamphlet of 12 months ago entitled "Wales into the 70's", which was written in glossy ad-man's English and improbable Welsh.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) referred to this document as resembling a company prospectus. I suggest that if it were, a company prospectus or company report there are certain hon. Gentlemen opposite who would find themselves in a place rather different from this for a year or two.
There is a great temptation to continue in this vein, but as other hon. Members wish to speak and time is short, I come to another important question, and that is the likely consequences to Wales in the event of Britain entering the Common Market, an issue to which several of my hon. Friends have referred.
Taking the most benevolent view of this European venture, to which the Government are determined to commit the British people irrespective of the views of the majority of them, there are probably two main consequences for Wales that most people would be willing to accept as inevitable. The first is that Wales will inevitably feel the centripetal effect of the forces of development and growth in the European Economic Community. It stands to reason that, with a mainland Europe of some 220 million people and with 54 million people in these islands, any manufacturer who is sane will try to establish his point of manufacture as near the main point of distribution as 1334 possible. That is a ruthless, relentless and unremitting law of economics that no amount of starry-eyed European romanticism can ever gainsay.
In Wales we already have the experience of a community steadily losing its more virile and younger elements, decade by decade. Between 1920 and 1940 Wales lost more than 500,000 of its people, about one fifth of its population. But when they cross State lines it becomes a greater tragedy again. Instead of seeing our people drift away to England, we now face the prospect of seeing them go to that fertile crescent lying from Brussels to Rome.
Another consequence is that, in addition to what I have said about the centripetal effect and the need for greater and more dynamic regional development than ever before, such policies will inevitably be inhibited when and if we enter the E.E.C. I shall not quote the terms of Article 92, which are well known to hon. Members, about special assistance to areas such as Wales. There may be one or two hon. Members present who would fly to the defence of the Treaty of Rome and say that I was being extremely unfair. After all, Article 37 allows an amelioration of the common agricultural policy in relation to regions with particular problems. Article 49 deals, with some exceptions with restrictions on the free flow of workers. Articles 75 and 82 deal with a common transport policy. There are the institutions of European social funds and the European investment bank.
It is not my purpose to try to make any assessment of those institutions. But I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say whether they have applied their minds to the mammoth problems which would exist for Wales in the event of Britain entering the E.E.C. Have they, for example, considered whether it is right that Wales should be given the same exceptional situation as we understand the Prime Minister has announced would prevail for Northern Ireland; in other words, that there would be no free flow of labour into Northern Ireland because of the acute unemployment situation? Is Wales to be such an exception? If not, why not? Is there to be some special condition granted to Welsh hill farmers, 65 per cent. of whose income is represented by grants and subsidies?
1335 We are told time and again that the E.E.C. is heavily committed to the principle of regionalism.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies
I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend, but would he agree that were it not for the fact that we have a number of doctors from overseas working in our hospitals, many hospitals in Wales would have to close down today?
§ Mr. Morgan
Certainly. I should be the last to say that we should close the frontier. Our problem is not one of preventing people coming in, but of stopping people going out.
I have checked as carefully as possible in the report published a few months ago by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on the amounts actually spent on regional development in the E.E.C. The average annual figures over the last few years are as follows: France, 95 million dollars; Germany, 75 million dollars; the Netherlands, 20 million dollars. When the Labour Government left office they were spending £310 million, or 700 million dollars. For Wales the figure was £68 million, or 160 million dollars. In other words, in spite of all that is said in the Treaty of Rome and all that is said by apologists for the E.E.C., there is no evidence to show that there is expenditure on regional policies and dedication to regional policies on the scale needed to maintain the position in Wales, and nothing like what would be necessary to counteract the forces I have spoken about.
The aspirations of Wales during the tenure of office of a Conservative Government are understandably modest. The Welsh people expect, however, that the Secretary of State for Wales, who has been imposed upon us, will now show some reaction to the situation which could most crucially affect the future of our nation. Not to succeed in impressing his case upon his Tory overlords and the bureaucrats of Brussels would lay his competence open to indictment; and not to attempt to do so would be something craven and utterly dishonourable.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Idris Owen (Stockport, North)
I rise in support of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken for a sense of urgency in the matter of com- 1336 munications in North Wales, especially roads. As a mere Member for an English constituency, it will be rather difficult to follow the eloquence of the Welsh Members who have spoken, but I ask support for a better communications system in North Wales because I realise that the people I represent in North-West England have derived considerable benefit and enjoyment from visiting Wales, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It is rather tragic that people from the Manchester conurbation, Merseyside, Stoke-on-Trent and the Midlands have the great problem of reaching that area of Wales.
As a child I was taken by motor car to North Wales religiously, as my parents came from that wonderful Principality, and I know that the roads have not really improved very much over many, many years. When I study the programme indicated in the Report, I am disappointed that there is not the sort of dynamism behind the programme which would give the sense of urgency that the problem demands.
When I read in American journals of 16-lane highways being built out of Boston in Massachusetts, I should be extremely grateful on behalf of North-West England Members if we could get four-lane highways into Wales. I have recently observed that a considerable amount of tourism that was taking place in the Principality is now being diverted to the Lake District. That is not to the benefit of the North Wales residents and the trading community. The M6 motorway is a very useful means of communication, and the Lake District is now experiencing a new influx of people because of this motorway. Inevitably the people providing facilities for tourism must be benefiting.
I have in mind a very small fourteenth century village which is visited by many people. I have asked American, Canadian and Australian tourists about their itineraries. They frequently say that they are going to Wales, to the Lake District, to Stratford-on-Avon, to the West Country, to Scotland and to Killarney. Not sufficient of them go to Wales.
Wales is a beautiful country. The Menai Straits is one of the most beautiful stretches of water that I have seen 1337 in many thousands of miles of touring. Unfortunately, it was decided to build a brake lining factory on the beautiful shores of the Menai Straits, which I regard as a tragedy.
We must show much more urgency in road building, particularly from Chester. All roads converge from the north-west and Merseyside on Chester. The road from Stoke-on-Trent comes in at Kelsall. The road from Liverpool comes in at Ewloe. Traffic from Manchester struggles through Chester and converges on Ewloe. The inadequacy of the road pattern to the beautiful seaside resorts and the beautiful countryside of Snowdonia has meant that those areas have suffered. One must get into a six-mile queue on a Sunday evening to drive from, let us say, Abergele to Chester with fractious children in the back of the car to realise that the trip was not worth it and to say, in fact, that it was sheer misery.
I make a strong appeal for speed in building roadways to these areas. I do not know what the Report means by saying that roads go into the preparation pool. What is the time cycle from when a scheme goes into the preparation pool to when the road is finished and motorists are allowed to use it? I vividly recall a road scheme being prepared to bypass St. Asaph in the middle 1930s. That scheme was finished two or three years ago, thus taking over 30 years to complete. It is high time that we gave a high sense of urgency to providing for commuters from Wales to England and from England to Wales on the North Wales coast.
There are no five-star hotels on the North Wales coast. In contrast, there is a fantastic tourist trade in Killarney. Wales deserves a dynamic and positive tourist trade. It is communications that will give it that. Prosperity must be given to North Wales, but I know that there is a dominance of South Wales representatives and that we are bound to hear much about South Wales. North Wales and its tourist trade need and deserve a speedy road programme. There are people unemployed there. Plant and equipment are available. Let us tackle the road programme as if it were a wartime operation and let us have an ease of movement along the North Wales coast which will make a visit to Wales a delight 1338 and a pleasure for the countless millions of people who want to take advantage of it.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)
I understand the need to be brief. I hope that the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Idris Owen) will forgive me for not commenting on the points he has made.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) made a very fine speech earlier today. His stay at the Welsh Office was distinguished and successful. Cmnd. 4566 contains some very impressive stuff; like the curate's egg, it is very good in parts. The present incumbent of the office of Secretary of State for Wales received a very fine inheritance indeed from his predecessor. I hope that he will not misuse the seed corn.
I shall devote the time available to me to discussing the question of the development of the Dee Estuary and of East Flintshire. East Flintshire has always been regarded as the gateway to North Wales. For generations there has been intense speculation as to how East Flintshire would ultimately be developed. Various schemes are now being brought to near fruition. I itemise the Dee crossing, costing perhaps £75 million, the possibilities of a greenfield site for steel, costing probably about £1,000 million, and there are the new town proposals, possibly costing £500 million. There is also the concept of a nuclear power station costing in total £250 million.
In addition, the area is exploding fast in population, faster than anywhere else in Wales. Like everywhere else in Wales, in the near future we shall have local government reorganisation. It is against that background that I shall address some questions to the Secretary of State. Can he say—perhaps he cannot do so immediately—whether the Central Electricity Board will construct a nuclear power station at Connahs Quay? Will the British Steel Corporation build its green-field site at Shotton, and will the Water Resources Board plump for reservoirs in the Dee Estuary in the near future? If he can give us some views on those items, we in East Flintshire shall be very grateful.
I want to place on record the pronounced detestation of the majority of the 1339 Connahs Quay community for the concept of the nuclear power station in their vicinity. Most residents are both hostile and apprehensive.
On steel, we in East Flintshire believe that we have par excellence somewhere for a greenfield site, but I cede straight away that the priority should be the steel industry in Britain and the United Kingdom economy. My hope is that a greenfield site—and I still think that there is a hope of such a site coming to Wales—would come to Shotton because Shotton is one of the few profitable steel works, well-managed and with reasonable and co-operative trade unionists. They fear the humiliating decline of their industry and the need to roll other people's steel.
I read in the Glasgow Herald of 27th May this year that the Secretary of State for Scotland has nailed his colours to the mast and was going to try to obtain for Hunterston the British Steel Corporation's greenfield site. Will the Secretary of State for Wales nail his colours to the mast and indicate that he will do all in his power to obtain the greenfield site for Wales? We may say that it is the industrial equivalent of the Golden Fleece. Let him, then, be the Welsh Theseus.
A strong case has been made for the Dee crossing. By 1981 the Queensferry Bridge will take no more traffic.
The North-West, the Midlands and Wales are thirsty for water. Anyone who lives on industrial Deeside knows that throughout the summer we are choked to death with the traffic of people trying to get to the north-west coast. The case is strong, and my preference is for two crossings.
It may be too early to consider the promotion methods for the development of the Dee Estuary. But I should like to place on record my admiration for the work of Dr. Harvey Crann, the Secretary of the Dee and Clwyd River Board.
I hope that in any development in East Flintshire and North East Wales, Mold might be the central point of the new Clwyd county. I wish to pay tribute here to the county clerk of Flintshire, Mr. T. M. Haydn Rees.
My priorities in any development in North Wales, particularly East Flintshire, would be to safeguard the employment potential of the steelworks at Shotton. 1340 Second, we should have new industry introduced into East Flintshire before any of the projects I have itemised take place. Most people will agree that East Flintshire and Flintshire should not become a vast bedroom, the dormitory for Greater Merseyside.
It is also evident, in the plans for the Dee Estuary published so far, that the road systems considered and planned will not be adequate. We in Flintshire, and particularly East Flintshire, hope particularly that the Secretary of State will sanction immediate priorities for the improvement of existing and proposed road schemes.
Finally, in the list of priorities we cannot leave out the people themselves. One of the greatest priorities in Flintshire for the next decade is the taking of the people of Flintshire into the confidence of the Welsh Office. They must be consulted and allowed to make their voices heard in every way possible. It is even conceivable, though it may not be possible, that the Secretary of State himself might come to East Flintshire and address a public meeting on these matters.
Most of us here are Welshmen through and through. Any development of the Dee Estuary would have enormous and influential effects upon the rest of North Wales. The mind boggles at the thought that perhaps in a decade Anglesey and Liverpool will be but 90 minutes apart. None of us would like to see the culture, language and way of life of North Wales change for the worse by any ill-thought-out schemes for opening up the gateway to North Wales. I expect the Secretary of State for Wales to strain every nerve and sinew to safeguard the Welsh-speaking communities—and I have some scattered and strong in East Flintshire—what is Welsh, and what is best in the Welsh way of life from what well may be inevitable change.
Perhaps the best way to achieve this is for the Welsh Council to give consideration to a stategy for North-East Wales. In that way perhaps East Flint and Flintshire generally can avoid some costly mistakes. If the Welsh Office had strong control of development of the Dee estuary, we could prevent any bonanzas for private developers and investors.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelly)
Page 9 of the Report "Wales 1970" sums up 1341 what has happened in the year in one short sentence. It says:Following changes in the general economic climate in the United Kingdom, the level of forward interest in investment in new building and expansion schemes in Wales fell in the latter half of the year, when the number of enquiries showed a decline.The civil servant who wrote that was not being quite frank. The sentence should have begun, "Following the election of the Conservative Government …". That would have summed up the year in its two halves—the first half when there was the momentum towards regional development which had been built up over the previous five years, and the second half when, as a result of the General Election, there was a fall in inquiries and in industrial development. That decline has been going on at an ever-increasing rate in the first six months of this year.
One of the reasons for the decline is generally recognised to be the change from investment grants to investment allowances. I shall not go into the merits or demerits of the two systems but even if it were possible to argue—and I do not believe that it is—that there was not much difference between investment grants and investment allowances, there would still be no excuse and no reason for the Government to make the changeover at a time of falling profits, falling industrial production and increased unemployment.
Investment grants could give a much-needed boost to investment in Wales because they could act directly. Investment allowances are no use because they only act upon profits, and since, as a result of the Government's policies, industrialists are unable to make profits, they are useless. It was an act of folly and rashness by the Government to make the change when they did, even if they were convinced that there was not much difference between the two systems, which I would not accept.
The Government are not entirely consistent on this matter, as pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas). They have allowed the system of investment grants to continue in Northern Ireland. If the investment allowance system is superior to the investment grant system, why was it not applied to Northern Ireland with its chronic state of unemploy- 1342 ment? If the investment grant system is thought to be right for Northern Ireland, why is it not thought to be right for Wales, where in many constituencies the level of male unemployment is practically as high as in Northern Ireland?
This is not the only inconsistency in Government policy. We are constantly told that help should be given only to those who show a profit and are efficient. Yet the Government are enthusiastically embracing terms for entry into the E.E.C. which involve giving grants and subsidies up to as much as £100 million a year possibly, regardless of efficiency. British industrialists who might invest in Wales are forbidden to have investment grants and are discriminated against while Continental farmers, for example, are to receive grants and subsidies regardless of the efficiency and profitability of the recipients.
It is a matter of political will. The Prime Minister has set his heart on entering the E.E.C. He has his gaze firmly fixed on the Treaty of Rome and is prepared to subsidise inefficiency to obtain his goal. Like previous Tory Prime Ministers, he is not interested in Wales and thereby is prepared to apply to Wales the unedifying principle that the weakest must always go to the wall. The report does not touch on the Common Market, but, in common with my right hon. and hon. Friends. I believe that it is time for the Welsh Office at least to tell us something about the effects of the Common Market upon the Welsh economy. It is not enough to say that the economy of Great Britain as a whole will benefit. When the whole economy has benefited from an economic boom, we have in the past seen no corresponding benefits to Wales. This is one of the myths of the Conservative Party. If we enter the Common Market, especially with a Government with this half-hearted commitment to regional development, there will be an even greater drift from Wales to the South-East and East of England.
The report says that industrial development certificates were granted for 8.8 million sq. ft. and that a third of that area was for newcomers to Wales. This shows the importance of control by i.d.cs. But does the Welsh Office envisage this system continuing if we enter Europe-One of the basic principles of the Treaty of Rome is the free movement of capital. 1343 If the Department of Trade and Industry told an industrialist that he would have to go to Wales or some other development area in order to get a certificate, he would only have to threaten to go to France or Belgium for the Department to relent and allow the expansion in the South-East. I hope that tonight or later, we shall hear how it intends to protect the i.d.c. system when we are in Europe.
The report shows that up to last June a considerable momentum was achieved towards putting the Welsh economy on a sound footing. That momentum was lost by the election of a Conservative Government. It is the profound misfortune of Wales that at this crucial time in her history, with so many of her institutions and traditions in the balance, and despite the good intentions of the Welsh Office, we should again be governed by a party which is largely alien to the traditions of Wales, which has never known of the existence of Wales except when its own supporters deem her ripe for exploitation, and whose leader seems bent on policies which, if they were successful, would turn our people into the rootless inhabitants of an amorphous European State.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwynoro Jones (Carmarthen)
The Report, "Wales: 1970", which has been criticised today for its contents and general layout and the fact that it is not effective in statistical analysis, for all its shortcomings is a vindication of the work and efforts of the previous Labour Government. Much of its analysis on regional development, the derelict land unit, the road programme, the housing programme and improvement grants is support for what the previous Government did. Under the derelict land unit the clearance of derelict land is running at a high figure. Before 1964, only 8 acres of derelict land were cleared in the whole of Wales.
Another example is regional development and the attraction of industry under the old system of investment allowances. It is not a new system, as Conservative Members claim. More than 190 firms came to Wales under the investment grant policies, but from 1960 to 1964, under investment allowances, only 68 new manufacturing concerns came to Wales.
The report fails to highlight sufficiently the changed position since the end of the 1344 year in terms of jobs and prospects, redundancies, industrial development certificates, industrial inquiries, the unemployment situation and the jobs in the pipeline over the next four years. All these things taken together show a worsening of the economic climate, and the report fails to deal satisfactorily with any of these matters.
The Government inherited a firm road programme from the Labour Government. I asked the Secretary of State how many miles of motorway he has added to the firm programme since he became Secretary of State for Wales. The answer was "None". I asked him how much mileage in terms of dual carriageways and principal roads he has added to the programme, and I was told that it is in the region of 15 per cent. of the total programme. In other words, he has inherited 85 per cent. of the programme from the previous Government.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
One would not add quickly to the firm programme while being in office for less than a year. One would put new schemes in the preparatory pool first.
§ Mr. Jones
Additional money, certainly, but I do not want to follow this point because of the shortness of time.
I want to deal with the dual carriageway from St. Clears to Carmarthen and the bypasses of Carmarthen town, the Cross Hands bypass, the Drefach bypass and the Eastern bypass. The new programme includes a motorway west of Pontardulais which will encourage development in West Wales, if we do not enter the Common Market. Will the Minister consider what a motorway to Pontardulais will mean unless Carmarthen has these bypasses and unless there is a dual carriageway to St. Clears? I implore the Secretary of State to apply his mind to this. If he were to go to Carmarthen next Saturday he would see a queue of traffic going back six, seven or eight miles on either side of Carmarthen town, and this happens every Saturday.
The Secretary of State has made no attempt to analyse the effect on Wales of entry into the Common Market, or to assess the impact of entry on regional development, the dairy industry, the future of the Milk Marketing Board in terms 1345 of milk transport costs, and the hill farming subsidies. No effort has been made to analyse the opinions of the people of Wales. The electorate of Wales will long remember how those who represent them react on this matter, unless they take note of what the people say.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
I want to raise the need for the planning of Wales if it is to achieve prosperity—planning in three aspects: economic, physical and in the structure of Government.
Before I do so I would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of the amazing doctrines which regularly come forward from the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). The hon. Gentleman may be trying to earn a reputation as the economic Rasputin of the Tory benches, but he is a junior member of the Treasury team in the present Government.
§ Sir A. Meyer rose——
§ Mr. John
No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman should have taken less time and given other hon. Members greater opportunity to speak. He and his hon. Friends have been inconsiderate to us, and we are going to be similarly inconsiderate towards him. If his economic doctrines are to mean a Welsh version of the highland clearances, then we shall have the best-kept cemetery in Great Britain—empty of people, but pretty to look at. I do not know the Secretary of State's views on this matter, but it is abundantly clear that we cannot trust the future of Wales to the so-called natural laws of economics. We must plan carefully.
I would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman of one fact when he makes the claim that Wales is not doing quite as badly as the rest of the United Kingdom. The statistics mask the true situation to a certain extent since the rise in female employment masks the fall in male employment on a permanent 1346 basis. I shall deal no further with that topic but will move on to another matter.
I turn to the question of physical planning. Since one hon. Gentleman opposite was so interested in my views on the new town of Llantrisant, I will tell him what they are. I give the project a qualified welcome. There is a need to inject further capital into the area, because the development of new towns takes place year after year when people move into an area and new houses are built. The provision of social services to match the increase in population puts an intolerable strain on the financial resources of rural district councils, and the provision of Government funds to match building and social facilities is to be welcomed.
There is some anxiety within the area itself that this must be part of a balanced plan of development of the whole area, including the valley. The people of Llantrisant, like the people of Rhondda, will not be prepared to accept a new town as an excuse for killing valley life. It must not be the sort of anonymous, soulless new town community which has occurred in other parts of the country. South Wales is rich in community life, and we do not want a soulless development which cuts off the new town from the rest of Wales and does not repeat the richness of community life that is to be found elsewhere in Wales.
Such a development must be the result of planning and not as a result of wishful thinking, which unfortunately the right hon. and learned Gentleman is drifting into in regard to this matter. On 28th April he said in the Welsh Grand Committee that he expected most of the industrial development to be financed by private enterprise. I later asked in a Written Question how the right hon. and learned Gentleman thought this would work, what inducements he would give, and how it would differ from what has happened in other parts of the country. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said in his reply:The establishment of a new town in this area … will be an important stimulus to industrial development by private enterprise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th May, 1971; Vol. 817, c. 199.]In other words, the argument is completely circular. If the new town is to be created—and I realise that the right hon. 1347 and learned Gentleman still has time to act in this matter, which is why I am putting this point to him now—it must be as a result of realistic planning of industrial development. The industry must be planned for the area.
§ Mr. John
I appreciate that. The point is that the existence of a new town by itself will not provide the attraction for industry that is required. The rest of the area is a special development area, but it is not noticeably successful at the moment in attracting the sort of industry that it needs.
I want finally to refer to the Cardiff—Llangurig trunk road. I welcome its development. However, according to the South Wales Echo its construction will create a problem in my constituency. When the time comes for me to take it up with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I hope that he will be sympathetic.
I have heard rumours to the effect that when the road is completed the Barry—Treherbert and the Barry—Merthyr railway line will be closed. If that proposal is carried into effect, it will be a negation of the extra road space which is to be created. If the traffic at present carried by the railway is turned on to the new trunk road, it will eventually choke it.
If planning is left to chance, Wales will not prosper. It is the misfortune of the Principality that, however well meaning the Secretary of State is, he inherits an economic philosophy and is a member of a Government which have no will, no relevance and no solution to Welsh problems. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's chief service to the Welsh people will be to arrange for an early General Election. I hope that in his capacity as chairman of the Tory Party he will do so in the very near future.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)
There are many aspects of the debate with which I should like to deal, but in view of the great shortage of time and the fact that there are still one or two of my hon. Friends who wish to speak. I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible.
1348 The main substance of the debate has been based on the Report entitled, "Cymru: Wales: 1970". I am sure, however, that the Secretary of State will appreciate that it is not this year's Report with which we are mainly concerned. We wait with great impatience for next year's Report, since we feel that it will testify to the contempt in which Wales has been held by the Conservative Government during their first year in office.
This Government are using as their sole justification for their economic policies the fact that Wales is not as badly off as the remainder of the United Kingdom. In taking that view, they hold out no hope for the future. Next year's Report will tell a story of diminishing public expenditure and rising unemployment, unless some very dramatic changes are made by the Secretary of State or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When next year's Report is published, this Government will have to pay the price for the way in which they have misled the people of Wales during their time in office. They are beginning to attempt to disclaim responsibility for what brought them to power last year. In some ways that is to be welcomed, because it smacks of an honesty which they have not demonstrated in other areas.
Contrary to what the Government say about Wales not being as badly off as the rest of the United Kingdom, the figures are apparent and the percentages are published for all to see. Despite the fact that unemployment in the United Kingdom has gone up 15 per cent. in the last 12 months whereas in Wales it has gone up only 4 per cent., in the travel-to-work areas in my constituency, it has gone up 19 per cent. In the Bedwellty constituency, 492 more men are unemployed today than last year. Whatever happens to the remainder of the United Kingdom, my chief concern is for my constituents, and my main aim is to attack the policies and thoughts which have reintroduced industrial stagnation and which will bring industrial depression to the valley which I represent.
That is the kind of future that is held out to us by this Government's apology for an economic policy. However, behind the figures to which I have referred there is a more serious and disheartening, disappointing set of statistics. I refer to 1349 the figures in the Report for juvenile unemployment. It has been seen fit to write on page 2:… many young people were obliged to take work that did not fully realise their potential skills.Underneath the rather bland sentence of necessity written in that way is a story of probably the greatest tragedy that people can experience—the terrible indignity of leaving school in the knowledge that they will not be employed. I do not think that anybody on either side could look into the eyes of an unemployed youngster of 17, 18 or 19 years of age or an unemployed young family man of 21 and say, "You must draw comfort from the fact that Wales is not as badly off as the rest of the United Kingdom". There might be a thread of hope in this paragraph on juvenile employment—the emphasis should be juvenile unemployment—but coming through that paragraph we see the depressing facts about juvenile unemployment. The number of children staying on at school for no other reason than that they cannot get jobs if they leave, the decreasing number of apprenticeships available, and the absence of interesting jobs with security and opportunity for improvement are becoming increasingly typical of the Welsh Valleys.
It is not enough to say, as the Report and the Advisory Committee for Wales of the National Youth Employment Council says:The Committee is conscious that without a marked improvement in the economic situation the opportunities that employment affords to utilise and develop the skills of Welsh school leavers, already inferior to those enjoyed by their contemporaries elsewhere, may further deteriorate.It is not sufficient to ask that these youngsters should depend on an upturn in the economic situation. By definition, the longer this situation of unemployment and depression continues, the more difficult it will be to overcome.
I hope that the Secretary of State is at bottom a compassionate man. For the sake of the youngsters faced with total disaster, I ask him to instigate a policy to bring special aid to the young unemployed of South Wales and the remainder of the Principality.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
It seems a waste of time to speak at this rather late hour. I have been a Member of Parliament for about four years. I have made one speech in a previous Welsh debate, so tonight I suppose that I should be thankful that I have at least been granted the right to deliver the epilogue.
I and many of my hon. Friends feel that this is an unsatisfactory method of debating Welsh affairs and Welsh reports. The form of the debate is too wide to have a meaningful discussion on important issues affecting Wales. I also believe that the length of the debate is wrong. It is inconceivable to people outside that their Member of Parliament is not able to make a contribution on the one day on which Welsh affairs are debated on the Floor of the House. Therefore, I believe that in future we should ensure that the debate goes on until such time as all Welsh Members who wish to speak have made their contributions. I have sat throughout the debate discarding my notes like a striptease dancer discarding her veils.
I represent a mining constituency which has been one of the hardest hit areas in the past few years and is likely to be hit even harder by the policies of this Government. I had intended to say a great deal about unemployment, but many of my hon. Friends have already dealt with that matter. However, I should like to refer briefly to the health and welfare services and comment partly on what is in the Report and partly on what is omitted from the Report.
We on this side of the House are proud of the health and welfare services. The Labour movement—particularly its Members in the House at the time, our friends Jim Griffiths and the late Nye Bevan—played a great part in the organising of the health and welfare services which we now have. We realised then—as we do now—that we could not have the health and welfare services that we wanted, and which our people needed, unless those services were built on the foundation of full employment.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State has left the Chamber, because I want to 1351 quote something which he was reported in the Western Mail as having said in January. We are concerned about health and welfare, and we become worried when we have a complacent Secretary of State. He is reported to have said on 19th January:The Government has only been in office for the short period of six months, but our policies already are producing encouraging results.I do not know who they were encouraging. They were certainly not encouraging the people of Wales, the unemployed, and those who have been called upon to pay increased prescription charges and a host of other additional charges imposed by the Government.
I am sorry to have to refer to the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), but we were not encouraged to hear, in the Welsh Grand Committee, his suggestion that one solution to the unemployment problem in Wales is to create bigger and better Sloughs. That is not what the Welsh people want. What they want, and what we have the right to demand, is work in Wales. We want work for our people in the mining valleys, such as the Rhondda, so that they do not have to leave their home areas in order to be employed.
§ Mr. Jones
That is what the hon. Gentleman says now, but that is not what he said before, because he said that there could be an escape from unemployment, and to escape must mean to leave one's home and go elsewhere. There can be other Sloughs in the United Kingdom if the Government hold fast to their present policies. We do not want other Sloughs. The people of Wales want the right to work in their own land, and by providing the work there we can build on and improve our health and welfare services.
In this Report the Government have ignored what I regard as the meanest and the most discreditable of all the policies they have yet suggested. There is no mention here of the increased prescription charges. There is no mention of the increased cost of school meals. There is no mention of the withdrawal of school milk for the 7 to 11-year olds. The 1352 Government may argue that that has nothing to do with 1970, but the Report contains other statements relative to 1970 which are included because the Government think that they might gain a bonus from their inclusion.
We have long and bitter experience of how Tory Governments deal with unemployment, health and welfare. We know from experience that large-scale unemployment inevitably causes poverty. The poverty it causes is such that one of the longest words of which I knew the meaning when I was a youngster in the Rhondda was malnutrition. I knew it from bitter experience, because of the unemployment in the area, and the advice given to us was that the best protection against disease was to be born the child of well-to-do parents.
We never learned that technique, but we did learn how to create a Welfare State, and it is something about which we on this side have every right to be proud. We had to create the Welfare State and we are not prepared to stand by and see this or any other Government destroy it. That is the brief message that I want to send out from this debate.
Another serious omission is the lack of any reference in the Report to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That Measure was passed with support from both sides of the House, and I had hoped to see some figures of expenditure on behalf of the chronic sick and unemployed.
I have had a circular from an organisation dealing with the expenditure of various authorities in England but not of authorities in Wales. This is not a political point and I hope that the Minister of State will take steps to ensure that we are presented with a table showing the net expenditure on chronically sick and disabled people in every health authority in Wales. It is because of our concern for health and welfare organisations and those who are in need that we condemn the Government who are tolerating, nay, encouraging, the use of unemployment as an economic weapon against the people of Wales.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)
When I sat on the Government back benches I used to realise that my views would sound discordantly with many 1353 others on my own side. I have listened to all the speeches in the course of this debate and I realise that, once again, perhaps my views may be in discord with the views of my hon. Friends, particularly in relation to the Common Market. I take the view, expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) that today when we are debating the relationship between Wales and Europe, the effect of joining the Common Market—which is probably an imminent decision—was the main aspect of the Report upon which we should have concentrated.
Having made that point, the hon. and learned Gentleman did not enlighten the House as to the views of the Welsh Liberal Party on joining the Common Market. I do not think the House has been told whether the views of the Welsh Liberal Party on this matter are in line with the views of the National Liberal Party as advertised in the national Press.
I have always shared the view of my hon. and right hon. Friends that the presence of the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Peter Thomas) in this important post of Secretary of State for Wales was a great mistake and that Wales was not being properly represented by a man who sat for a constituency outside Wales. However, having heard some of the views expressed by Government back benchers I feel that the right hon. and learned Member is perhaps the best compromise we have.
If some of the policies which were put forward, particularly by the hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) and Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), were to be the policies employed by the Secretary of State, it would be an even greater disaster for Wales than the present inactivity and indecision in the Welsh Office.
Why has the report been delayed? Why was it not published in March? I understood that the reason for the delay was that we were to have the statistics to back up the report. The introduction to the report says that this was the reason for the delay. Suddenly the Secretary of State changes his mind. Is it because he already knows that the statistics which will make the report relevant are so bad that he does not want to face a debate in the House on such statistics?
1354 This is the only day on which we shall debate Welsh affairs on the Floor of the House. I have always held the view that, important as the Welsh Grand Committee is, really the only relevant discussion of the affairs of Wales in this place takes place on the Floor of the House. After this debate, whatever statistics we see in October, whatever the effect of joining the Common Market may be, if we do so, we shall not have another debate on the Floor of the House until 12 months from today. The production of this report is a farce, and it has deprived Wales of proper representation.
I would like to have commented on a great many other subjects, but time is short and I will concentrate on the effect which the changes that have been made in the last 12 months have had on the structure of the Welsh Office.
We have welcomed the strengthening of the Welsh Office, including the handing over to it of responsibility for education at the primary and secondary school level. However, we deplore the fact that after all our questioning and debating—indeed, we have talked about little else for the last 12 months—the issue of the organisation of trade and industry in the Welsh economy is still left outside the control of the Welsh Office. Only a director, a civil servant, is being appointed, but he will be outside the direct responsibility of the Department.
I deplore, in the structure of Welsh politics, the continued growth of councils, corporations and boards over which we have no democratic control. Why are we having this so-called Sports Council, which will be so authoritative, we are told, and have such fantastic tasks to perform that it must have the status of a public corporation? This represents a negation of democratic government and makes nonsense of any claim on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite to be representing the Welsh point of view.
Apart from this new Sports Council, we are to have a Health Executive, this at a time when the Crowther Commission is deliberating. The new Health Executive will also be unsatisfactory because it will be non-elected and will make absolutely no contribution to the democratic development of Welsh political institutions.
1355 We used to say that one thing that we could be certain of getting from a Conservative Government was inertia, but hon. Gentlemen opposite have not even lived up to our worst expectation. They have not given us inertia. One criticism I could make of the Labour Government was that at a difficult time we tried to do too much. With a sensitive balance of payments position and problems over world trade, perhaps we took on too many tasks.
When the Conservatives came to power, however, they immediately embarked on a programme of changes which was revolutionary. In October they looked at the Welsh economy and did away with our investment grants system. In other words, they looked at the situation, announced their sentence and then decided to hold a trial.
For nearly 12 months a committee—the name of which I forget and which has not been mentioned since—has apparently been deliberating on this change in the Welsh economy. During its deliberations every responsible opinion, both inside and outside Wales, has been advising the Government that their change was a mistake.
Whatever the Secretary of State is trying to do for his party, he must now stand up to the Government and put his country before his party. The Prime Minister is being attacked in The Spectator for doing just that. I respect him for being attacked by the Spectator. But we can respect a man who puts his country before his party. The Secretary of State for Wales should do just that. Any person involved in any way in the management of the Welsh economy knows very well that the structure that the Government have adopted for party political and doctrinaire reasons is the wrong structure for the Welsh economy.
I believe that the Labour Party may very shortly again be responsible for administering policy in Wales and in Britain. I hope so. If we are, there is a great deal of merit in allowing the continuation of the system that the present Government are employing in Wales with regard to tax relief as opposed to a grant. I hope that we would let it continue, but let it continue side by side with a grant system, giving the industrialist an alternative. Anyone involved in managing a 1356 business in Wales knows that every possible inducement should be given.
The argument behind the change was that there would be a tremendous saving and that industrialists would have an inducement because taxation was to be reduced by the saving which would arise. But the fact is that, according to the calculation of the Treasury, there will be no saving and that this system will cost the Treasury exactly the same amount as our system would have cost. When we look at the number of i.d.c.'s being granted, at the state of the British economy in general and at the analysis being made of development in the future and when we accept that here will be no saving, we can only come to the conclusion that a number of firms which are highly profitable and will receive the maximum tax allowances will obtain a very much bigger return from this system than will the small firms which we should be encouraging. That stands to reason, because unless a firm is making the maximum profits, and making them quickly—every firm does not pay the maximum amount which would give it a maximum return from the tax system—it is precluded from taking advantage of this system.
I am very much afraid that the Government will accede to another change which will affect Wales very badly. The West Midlands Economic Council published a Report today, and the Bromsgrove by-election will perhaps affect this policy change. I was speaking to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis) and I asked him the main issue. He said that it was rising unemployment, that the situation in Redditch was terrible and that unemployment was now double, 2.6 per cent. If a party is to lose a 10,000 majority because of a 2.6 per cent. unemployment figure, the Government will have to change their policy in the West Midlands.
This report has been welcomed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, who calls it a very radical and far sighted, revealing report. If this appeal for a change of policy is accepted, it means the end of any kind of industrial development in Wales. But we still have one unique weapon of economic policy left, and that is the policy of negative planning which has been pursued in this country for many years.
1357 I support, as my party supports, the idea of becoming part of the European Communities. I have tried to make this point time and again to the Secretary of State for Wales, who does not appreciate, or does not want to appreciate, it. Before we enter the E.E.C.—as I believe we shall—I sincerely hope that the time will come when we shall be in power to administer the very difficult situation that we shall face in Wales when we enter the Community.
But I deplore the fact that the Government are abandoning every economic policy that is unacceptable to the French before we join the Community. The policy of negative planning is unacceptable to the French, and will continue to be so, and I am afraid that the Government will find it convenient, in view of Bromsgrove and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to abandon that policy also in the very near future. If that happens, it will be the death knell of industrial development in Wales.
There are many aspects of the report to which I should like to refer, but I will refrain from doing so. As regards the Welsh language, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) said in his very interesting speech that we should make a gesture, because a gesture was being demanded by young people of Wales. I do not believe that in the present economic situation in Wales introducing bilingual road signs universally throughout Wales, which could cost £3 million in one year, would be a worth-whole gesture to the Welsh language. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's contention that young people in Wales would be prepared to sanction the worthwhile expenditure of that sum on such a gesture.
There is an element in Wales which would prefer to do that. There is an element in Wales which considers the holding back of industrial development to be the most effective way of keeping the Welsh language alive. We must be careful that we are not pandering to such an element. If the Welsh language is to remain a real language and the language of a living nation, it must be the language of a prosperous, thriving, community.
In that context I urge the Government, when they talk about language, not to talk about road signs and forms but to see what they can do to help the Welsh 1358 language in a real and living form. There is far more to be done for the Welsh language in education, television and radio.
Resources are important in Wales. We are even more desperately short of men than we are of money in Wales. Squandering resources on private broadcasting in Wales when we need a Welsh broadcasting channel would be one of the worst things we could do and a disservice to the fostering of the Welsh language as a living language.
As regards the Common Market, let me ask the following questions. First, will the Minister of State confirm that the policy of negative planning would be acceptable if we joined the European Economic Community?
Second, will he confirm that it is recognised that the development of the steel industry in Wales is all important? We must realise that steel is now the major industry in Wales. I represent an agricultural area, but we must realise that agriculture is a contracting industry and one of diminishing comparative importance to the Welsh economy? Steel is the key to the development of the Welsh economy. If we do not look after our steel industry, there is no future for our agricultural economy, because the Welsh agricultural economy will always require subsidising. Without a healthy industrial economy we cannot afford agriculture in very large areas of Wales. I want to know whether the Steel Corporation has to be split up if we enter Europe or whether its present investment has to be limited to keep it within manageable size.
Third, I want to know whether there is to be any effect upon our programme of nuclear power development if we enter the Community.
Finally, at what time, and by whom, has the assurance been given that hill cow and hill sheep subsidies can be paid under the terms of the Treaty of Rome?
I want to go into Europe, and I believe that it would be a good thing for my nation to go into Europe. But I do not want to go round Wales selling the European Economic Community and offering the people of Wales a false bill. I believe that this is what can happen. If one accepts that the policy of the present Government is to bounce us into Europe, there are many bounces that the 1359 economy of England can suffer. There will be a slight recession, a slight downturn, but the bounce on the economy of England would be a shattering blow to many parts of the economy of Wales. We want these points explained.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am grateful—one forgets so many things after listening to a long debate—to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of another point I wanted to make. There are parts of Europe that are obtaining far bigger advantages in terms of industrial development and agricultural development than we are receiving in Wales under the present Government. The Minister told me in answer to a Question recently that the aid now being given was more or less the same as is being given in this country, with one proviso—that there is a provision for loans in the Community, and these loans amount to grants. In many parts of Europe these loans are at interest rates of 1 or 2 per cent. If we go into Europe on the present policies being pursued by the present Government, these will be the policies we shall keep and stick to if we get in.
The great tragedy facing Wales is that the Government have made the people of Wales—the people of Britain—nervous about the future. In 12 months they have transformed a climate of economic certainty, backed by a very healthy balance of payments surplus, into a potential balance of payments loss during the next two years. They have transformed industrial growth into the first setback in industrial development in this country since the war, and they have transformed confidence in Wales into very real anxiety, stemming from the highest unemployment since the war.
We cannot expect the people of Wales or Britain to accept a major innovation like joining the Common market when they are nervous about the future and have a complete lack of confidence in the people who are trying to negotiate and bring about this fundamental change. There is a feeling that it has been brought 1360 about because the Government have no other policy to cling to, that it is the only thing they have which will hold them together. That is no basis on which we can take the people of Wales with us into a Europe which I hoped at one time, and still hope, can hold the true future for Wales.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards) asked for 20 minutes to wind up. He has been 25 minutes.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. David Gibson-Watt)
With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I did not quite catch what you said.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member asked for 20 minutes to wind up. He has been 25, which I am afraid means that the Minister must speak for only 20 minutes instead of the 25 for which he asked.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I shall have to accept that, Mr. Speaker, but, to be frank, I felt that the hon. Gentleman's speech was well worth listening to. If I did not agree with everything he said, he was honest enough to say that he did not agree with everything that other hon. Members opposite have said.
The speeches of the hon. Member, the notable speech of the right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), and others contrasted sharply with the speech of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas). I will say only this of his speech—that, in considering the economic inheritance that the Labour Government left us, he is prepared to take the credit for everything that appeared to be good in it but is not prepared to accept any odium or blame for what was bad in it. That is what his speech boiled down to.
This is the 21st debate on Welsh Affairs in this Chamber. If my researches are right, there has been a debate on Welsh affairs in the Chamber in every year since 1946, except for 1947, 1950 and 1951. There were two debates in 1957—during a period of Conservative Government. Today, therefore, is our 21st birthday.
I want to answer as many as possible of the questions put to me from both sides of the House and intend, as far as time allows, to deal with the major issues in a few minutes. The debate has brought 1361 out the fact that we look at Welsh problems over a long time scale. Certain matters raised and discussed by one party in a Parliament are often brought to fruition by the Government which follows or even the one after that. Those of us who have played a part in public affairs in Wales since 1946—and many of us here have—still remember vividly that, 25 years ago, we had just emerged from a devastating war and had to face the problems of peace—problems which had been made worse by the six years of war. So many of the matters spoken of today have their origins in those years 25 years ago. But the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred to the present and to the future, to the next 25 years and to some of the major decisions which will shape them.
Much of the debate has concentrated on industry and employment. I shall come to that in a moment. I want now to refer to the agricultural industry. Over the period of time that I have referred to—indeed, even before then—Welsh agriculture has a record of which our farmers can well be proud. The hon. Member for Merioneth referred to it—inadvertently, I think—as a declining industry. I think that what he was really saying was that it was important to have other industries to bolster up an industry such as agriculture, which obviously does need help. I accept what he said if it had that meaning.
It is our intention to create the conditions in which that record can be improved still further, and we have made a good start in that direction. Milk and livestock production are already at a high level. The beef herds continue to increase. Although sheep figures have tended to slip back over the last year or two, the March agricultural census figures show a small rise in the number of breeding flocks. The action taken last October and in the February price review has done a great deal to restore confidence in the livestock sector of the industry in particular.
There are other clear indicators of the forward-looking and more confident attitude of our farmers. One is the rising level of investment, as reflected in the response to grant-aided schemes for capital improvement. Hill farmers, for instance, have taken full advantage of 1362 the aid offered under the Hill Land Improvement Scheme and, since 1st January, under the Farm Capital Grants Scheme, which continues the grant.
Another indicator is the considerable increase in the number of applications under the new brucellosis incentive schemes since the new incentives were announced in February. Again, farmers are frequently aware of the need for more effective marketing of their products. As they come to look more to the market for their returns and less to the Exchequer, this more positive approach assumes great importance.
In this developing situation, we must bear in mind the excellent and continuing work of the Ministry of Agriculture experimental farms and the work of the plant breeding station at Aberystwyth which, in its fifty two years, has gone from strength to strength and has played a significant part in helping Welsh farmers to better production. Their work is world-famous. When I visited their Pantydwr Hill Research Station on Friday last, I was very interested to hear of the many farmers—from Wales and abroad—who will come this year to keep abreast of the latest developments in grass improvement.
We want our agriculture to be strong and independent, and this is what our farmers want too. With the ability and the adaptability which they possess there is every indication that Welsh farming will prosper.
Forestry continues to play an increasing rôle in Wales. Last year, planting totalled 8,000 acres, and although direct employment by the Forestry Commission fell by 142 men, a census has revealed that a further 550 men were employed in the State forests by merchants and others, of whom 85 per cent. live within travelling distance of their work in the forests.
The Commission should also be given credit for the pioneer work it has carried out in the amenity field. Nature trails, camping grounds and car parks, all constructed in. the best of taste, have made a good contribution to tourist reception.
My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the environment and to derelict land renovation. We want not only to improve those parts of our country which have in the past been marred by dereliction: we also want to conserve 1363 beauty. I refer not only to the natural beauties. The attraction of our countryside is certainly enhanced by the presence of old buildings. Wales is rich in such buildings and it is very important that we should cherish those parts of our heritage.
In this context, my right hon. and learned Friend and I attach great importance to the work being done by the Historic Buildings Council for Wales, who maintain in good order our buildings of historic and cultural value. We have lately made an increase of funds for this purpose. The amount currently available for grants on the advice of the Council is being increased from £50,000 to £71,500 a year, with immediate effect. The amount available for grant in the two years beginning 1st April, 1971 will then be increased from £100,000 to £143,000.
I come now to another matter connected with the environment. In this connection we have decided to honour the commitment entered into in 1967 by one of my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessors, before part of the Vaynol Estate land was purchased, that, on completion of the purchase, the authorities concerned would determine the properties to be offered for sale to tenants and would make provision for public access and other facilities. This is a very important matter for England and Wales.
After close examination of the recommendations of a working party of officials representing Government Departments, the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy and Caernarvonshire County Council set up to make proposals for future use and management, we have come to the conclusion that land not to be retained in public ownership should be sold as quickly as possible. We therefore propose to allow Caernarvonshire County Council a limited opportunity to purchase such land as may reasonably be required for the future provision of car parks, picnic sites and other facilities to control the intensive tourist use of the area, and to offer the remaining land for sale, excepting the summit of Snowdon which will be kept in public ownership, giving the tenants the first option to purchase it either singly or in groups.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts
Is the Minister able to add anything about the future of the Snowdonia National Park executive body, will he give an assurance that he will not listen to the silent voices which are calling for a board in place of the committee that now works so well?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. I cannot give him a specific assurance tonight, but I will look into this and write to him if he would like me to.
Such land as the tenants do not wish to buy will first be offered for sale by tender to other agricultural interests in the area. Following this, the Nature Conservancy and the Caernarvonshire County Council will be free to put in bids for any remaining land before others are invited. The land will be sold with a clause in the contract by which the purchaser agrees on completion to enter into an access agreement with the local planning authority or a nature reserve agreement with the Nature Conservancy, as appropriate. We shall be getting in touch with the tenants as soon as possible.
The subject of the investment incentives has been referred to more than any other subject during the debate by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. In particular, hon. Gentlemen opposite criticised the abolition of investment grants and implied that our present difficulties in Wales were directly attributable to this decision. It is a matter of argument whether one method of encouraging investment is more beneficial than another. The Labour Party believed in indiscriminate across-the-board assistance in respect of plant and machinery investment, regardless of the overall cost to the country. The total of investment grants paid in Wales last year was £39 million. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) said, there is no doubt that these grants did some good, in that they played a part in attracting new industry to Wales. But the question we asked ourselves was whether they represented value for money, and whether there were other and perhaps more effective ways of promoting the interests of the development areas.
§ Mr. Kinnock rose——
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
With great respect, I cannot give way. I am trying to answer 1365 a large number of questions. We came to the conclusion that the right course was to introduce a system under which the assistance was related to profits so that the greatest incentive was available to the firms that we needed most in Wales. We also decided to increase the rate of the building grants so as to encourage firms to provide their own factories, thus seeking to ensure that they would stay with us in Wales.
The Welsh Council undertook a detailed study of the new package of measures. It is important to appreciate that it is a package and not simply a switch over from investment grants to investment allowances, which is only part of it. The Council's analysis showed how extremely difficult it was to make a comparison of the incentives and grants before and after. It emerged that in certain circumstances a particular firm could be worse off under the new arrangements. But it also emerged that other firms with a different "mix" of investment as between plant and buildings could be better off. What I am certain of is that it is quite wrong to attribute the present situation in Wales to the change in incentives. The fact is that there has been a decline in the amount of mobile industry, due to falling profits and a general lack of confidence attributable largely to wage-cost inflation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] We always hear moans from the Opposition when this comes out. It would be just as well for them to appreciate that on this particular subject we are right. The Opposition cannot continue to blind themselves to the facts of the situation.
I should like to answer the point put forward by the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Ifor Davies) about smokeless fuel plants, which is an important matter. It is for the National Coal Board to decide whether to proceed with its plans for individual plant for the production of smokeless fuel. It is worth noting that in recent months a private manufacturing concern has felt able to go ahead on the basis of the new package of investment incentives with a smokeless fuel plant in the Llanelli area.
I have five minutes left to me, and there are so many things I wish to say concerning, for example, the E.E.C.; hospital reorganisaton, which was a matter about which my hon. Friend the Member 1366 for Barry (Mr. Gower) spoke with such feeling, and rightly so; and also about the whole question of local government reform. I obviously cannot deal adequately with those matters tonight.
I wish to say a few words about bilingual road signs in Wales, which was a subject mentioned by several hon. Members.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
The hon. Gentleman made his speech and I would be grateful if he would allow me to make mine. This matter is the subject of an Early-Day Motion on today's Order Paper. It has been a matter of debate in Wales for several years. The House will know that the form of road signs is prescribed in regulations. These were relaxed by the previous Administration so that some local signs could be in bilingual form. On grounds of safety, however, further relaxations were not conceded by the previous Administration.
In recent months the campaign being waged in Wales for a complete coverage of bilingual signs has become violent and extreme—a state of affairs which I am sure the overwhelming majority of Welsh people wholetheartedly condemn.
Earlier this year my right hon. and learned Friend set up a widely representative independent committee under the chairmanship of a respected former Member of the House, Mr. Roderic Bowen, Q.C., to investigate the whole issue in detail. While my right hon. and learned Friend is anxious to do all he can to foster and sustain the Welsh language, he must have authoritative advice on all aspects of the matter, including the important aspect of road safety.
"Wales 1970", whatever has been said about it, is a record of a year of endeavour and achievement. Some of its statistics are indeed records—records achieved by skill, energy and hard work and with the help of policies which are proving their worth. We should be as proud of them as we are proud of Welsh successes in the field of sport and as proud as we are of our singers, actors and instrumentalists. While we read and talk today of 1970, our minds think of the plans that have been made for 1971 1367 and far beyond. This record is something to be looked at.
As my right hon and learned Friend looks back at his stewardship over the last 12 months, I hope he will be reassured by the personal successes which he has had in dealing with Welsh affairs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] It is a record of grappling with problems, of being decisive, of striving to get things done for the good of Wales and to do what is best for its people. The catalogue is too long to recite in full. But let me give some examples, if hon. Members opposite will listen.
There has been the transfer to the Welsh Office of responsibility for primary and secondary schools in Wales, and a resolve to go ahead with local government reform and end the uncertainty of years. It is similar in regard to reform of the health services, for which our proposals were announced only two days 1368 ago. There has been a decision about Llantrisant, a project hinted at in the previous Administration's White Paper. There has been vigorous action on the roads programme, and more money for clearance of derelict land, for improvement of the health and welfare services, and for the improvement and replacement of very old schools. This is not a record which can be lightly passed over, and it will not be disregarded by those who have any knowledge of the affairs of Wales and those who care for the quality of the life of its people.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.