HC Deb 21 March 1951 vol 485 cc2437-61

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House takes note of the Memorandum on the activities of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, Command Paper 8060."—[Mr. Ede.]

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

May I thank my right hon. Friend, on behalf, I am certain, of all Welsh hon. Members, for the opportunity to discuss this Report this afternoon. At the same time, I want on behalf of Welsh hon. Members to register our bitter resentment at the fact that we have only two hours and 50 minutes for this discussion and to register disappointment, too, at the fact that the Report has not come before the House earlier in spite of the fact that it was made in July, 1950, and placed before hon. Members in October, 1950. The document itself has received universal approval from all shades of political opinion, and I am certain that I am speaking on behalf of all sides of the House when I say to the Chairman and members of the Council, "Thank you very much for the very hard work you have done in presenting these figures, documents and reports to the House and to the nation."

In 1948 I suggested some items for the agenda of the Council and I am glad to see that some of them have been the subject of deliberation. In the debate on the Welsh White Paper in 1949 I suggested that not only should the Council make recommendations to the Government but that the Government should consult the Council frequently, particularly on matters which very much concerned the Welsh nation. I am sorry once again to have to state that the Council were not consulted upon the Towy afforestation scheme—a matter of vital interest to the Welsh nation and particularly to its agriculture, with which I shall deal presently.

I am glad to find that the Council did a good job by dividing its work between three panels—one to deal with unemployment, one to deal with marginal land and one to deal with rural depopulation. They are three very important aspects of Welsh life. In the recent debate on Welsh affairs a great deal was said about unemployment and the employment of disabled persons, and I am certain that I can tell the Welsh nation that the Members representing industrial and other constituencies are doing a good job by constantly approaching Ministers about this very important problem.

I want now to deal with two important aspects of the Report—marginal land and rural depopulation. The problems and suggestions in the reports on both subjects are inter-related. Since the publication of the Report this House, in its wisdom, has passed the Livestock Rearing Act which will give a great impetus to the work of those who are concerned in marginal land, but I venture to suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that the provisions of that Act should be publicised a great deal more than were the provisions of the Hill Farming Act, not only by literature but, I suggest, by arranging conferences of the people concerned. Further, I suggest we should even canvass or try to sell the scheme so that we may get something done about marginal land. After all, we are concerned with 336,000 acres of land. I hope the Minister will tell us that he will give consideration to the early approval of schemes put forward under the Act.

The important part of the Report on marginal land is that dealing with a pilot scheme. I do not want to be controversial, particularly with my own colleagues, but I must point out that a lot of money has been spent on development schemes throughout the world, so surely we can have a development scheme on marginal land. Here is an opportunity. It says so in paragraph 75. What is the Government's reply to that recommendation about a pilot scheme for marginal land?

I notice that there are 79,000 acres of common land in Wales and I am certain that a great deal of it could be used for food production. The trouble is that, as democrats, we in Wales have thought that the common land belonged to the people. May I say this to the younger generation: it is no use the land belonging to the people if they do nothing with it. I should welcome some policy statement from the Minister about what is to happen to that common land, whether a survey can be undertaken and whether something can be done to plan food production on it—at the same time safeguarding the interests of the commoners.

I welcome the paragraphs in both the Report and the White Paper which we discussed some time ago which deal with agriculture, but there are one or two points which I must again submit to the Minister and upon which I seek a reply. The first concerns farm labour. There has been a decline in the amount of farm labour available and it is, therefore, important, especially for the remote farms in Wales and elsewhere in the country, that this situation should be borne in mind when we are planning the call-up, particularly where we have family farms and where the only person working on a farm might be liable to be called-up. In such circumstances it is difficult to envisage anyone replacing that labour.

Next, I refer to the calf rearing subsidy scheme. I am disappointed that it is to come to an end shortly, for I would much prefer to see a gradual reduction in the subsidy than its complete abolition. A great number of these farmers bought calves on the assumption that they would benefit until the cattle were slaughtered, but they will not now benefit and the real purpose of the scheme will not be achieved.

The most important thing both for those on marginal land and those on hill farms is security of tenure, because land is still sought by other Government Departments. I refer in particular to afforestation, and incidentally, may I here congratulate the Council on doing something which hon. Members and others have not been able to do—persuading the Minister of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission to give evidence on what they intend to do in Wales? I want the War Department, in particular, to be careful about the question of land which they are taking over in Wales and I want the Minister of Town and Country Planning to give much earlier than has been the case in the past the results of inquiries which have been made about land requirements. There was an inquiry in Brecon in July, 1950, and we are still awaiting the decision of the Minister of Town and Country Planning.

Turning to the important aspect of depopulation, I would point out that this is very acute in my constituency. The causes are unfortunately very alarming, but the panel have faced this great problem very well indeed. Perhaps I may suggest that one major cause of the de- cline in rural population over a great number of years is written on every page of the report of the Clement Davies' Committee—and that is the word "poverty"; that is a reason for the decline.

I was very much concerned that the tables in the Report show that, whereas the population for Wales as a whole increased by 41.92 per cent. between 1891 and 1948, in rural Wales the population declined by 8.23 per cent. In another statement I find that Wales has not yet returned to its 1931 population, whereas the population of England has increased by 9 per cent. In my own constituency, in the north part of Brecon I find that the density of population is only 40 to the square mile, whereas in the South Wales coalfield it is 1,600 to the square mile. The result of all this is that 25 per cent. of the people of Wales live in 75 per cent. of the area. The County Councils Association mentions in a report for the Boundary Commission that it would be possible to have a population, for local government purposes, in each county of 100,000. Seven counties in Wales would come out of that category altogether, and would no longer be considered as counties. That is the real extent of the problem.

I want to ask the Government what positive action is proposed in relation to paragraph 180. Are we going to have a further inquiry by a body with a complete and independent secretariat, to get something done about it? I am certain that that is the real answer. I know that this rural population problem extends throughout the world, but it would be no answer on the part of the Government merely to say that. It reminds me of the story of a Baptist woman going to a church meeting where the financial position of the church was being discussed; and after hearing a miserable report of the finances, she got up and said, "Thank God, we are not as bad as the Methodists.

I want to examine the causes of the drift from the rural areas and the situation which results from this drift at the present time. The Report brings out conclusively that it is caused by lack of amenities. Let us consider them. Let us consider houses. Was there ever a greater indictment than that contained in paragraph 107? I am not going to quote it, because hon. Members have probably read it, or will wish to study it at leisure. Nevertheless, it is a great indictment. Looking at the housing returns up to 31st December, 1950, I find that there are 20 rural district councils and 27 urban councils in rural areas that have built only 50 houses or less within the last five or six years, an average of 10 houses a year.

I refer again to the Clement Davies Report, which has been quoted before on many occasions, and its reference to tuberculosis in Wales. It states: While being aware of these difficulties and giving them due weight, we are, however, of opinion that authorities in those counties have fallen short of their duties and of their obligations. We find that they had insufficient regard for their powers or their duties, or the advice which was tendered to them by their officers. In fact, they have failed in their trusteeship as guardians of the health and welfare of the people who elected them. In view of this, is it not time that the Minister of Local Government and Planning, or whoever is responsible, should bring the powers of default into operation, so that houses can be built in the countryside? An important aspect of the matter is, that active authorities that have built houses are penalised because of the alarming deficits in housing revenue as per Table 8, a matter which the Welsh authorities have brought to the notice of the Government on several occasions. Well, I think that that is enough of the indictment with regard to housing, and I hope that something will be done about it.

We come next to water supplies and sewerage. The number of houses without piped water supply in the rural areas is very great, and in Montgomeryshire is 90 per cent, and in Cardiganshire 73 per cent., and in Radnorshire 61 per cent. That is an indictment with regard to water supplies. I ask the Government, what has happened to the policy with which I think everybody in Wales will agree, irrespective of what party he belongs to, is necessary—the policy of nationalisation of the water supplies? What has happened to it? If we are afraid to apply it to the whole country I am certain we should experiment with it in Wales, because at the present time there is a great deal of delay in the schemes which are put forward to the Ministry. There seems to be a lack of coordination between the local authorities, and I should like something to be done about that.

Then there is electricity supply—a very important amenity in rural districts. I was disappointed when some time ago in this House it was stated that there would be cuts in rural electrification. I am glad that the Consultative Committee in North Wales drew the attention of the Area Board to the effect of the cuts in rural electrification on agriculture in North Wales. I am more alarmed still about the position in South Wales, because on reading the last report of the Area Board, I find that there is a sort of insinuation that only self-remunerating schemes will be looked into and carried out as a priority.

Surely, under nationalisation that is the very sort of thing we wanted to abolish? Surely, before nationalisation that was the very thing we were up against? If we take postal services for an example, suppose it was decided that the Post Office would deliver letters only where it would be remunerative to do it, then in some parts of my constituency they would not see a post at all. In Radnorshire 80 per cent. of the population have no electricity; in Cardigan and Carmarthen, 70 per cent. have none; and in Pembrokeshire 50 per cent.

Another amenity is that of roads in country districts. It is a very important one indeed, of which I have spoken several times in this House. I read in the Report that some land would not be marginal if there were better access roads. The roads are so bad in some parts that the exports from the farms are only possible on foot. The Council for Wales consider that a general review of the unclassified roads in relation to the rural areas is urgent and important. I should like the Minister of Transport to take particular note of that. We, of course, gladly welcome what this Government have done in the way of making 50 per cent. grants available for Class 3 roads since April. 1946. I should like to point out that 8,419 miles of unclassified roads are still the responsibility of the county councils on the local rates, and there has been an increase of only 15 miles of the roads classified as Class 3 roads since 1946.

Surely, as agriculture is a dollar saver, something should be done to improve this position. In my own constituency there are at present 40 farms that have applied for assistance under the hill farming scheme for various improvements, so that the produce can be got off the farms. It would mean that 20¼ miles of roads would have to be improved and maintained, and it would cost the local authority of which I am a member £2,000 a mile to put those roads in good condition for that purpose. Surely, such a charge cannot be borne by the local authority itself.

If the Ministry of Fuel and Power want to get outcrop coal they make the necessary roads, maintain them and pay for them themselves, and if the War Office wanted materials sent to parts of Wales they too repaired the roads and gave sufficient grants for the work to be done. Cannot some Government Department, such as the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Transport, make some grant for this purpose?

The most important question in regard to local amenities is money. I would draw attention to the fact that the product of a 1d. rate is deplorable at the present time in some of the rural counties of Wales. We are given information about this in table 12, where we are told that there are five counties in which a 1d. rate realises under £1,000. Local government cannot carry on its services in these circumstances. I find that rural counties are having to increase their rates for the next financial year. Carmarthen are increasing their rates by 6s. 6d., Pembroke by 4s. 6d., Montgomery by 3s. 6d. and Anglesey by 2s. 6d.

Not only that, but loan debts are piling up. The loan debt in Breconshire in 1950 was £134,000, but at the present time the figure is standing at £227,000. Breconshire is the highest true rated county in both England and Wales, the very county where rural de-population is so alarming. I suggest to the Government that there ought to be a policy for these rural areas such as we have in the case of the industrial or development areas. Special grants ought to be available for these rural areas. That is not a new thing. It was recommended by the Hob-house Committee on Rural Housing. I want to see that administered by an elected body and not by a body such as the Trading Estates.

I am certain that I have given a great deal of material for thought to the Government. I realise that very little attention has been given to this Report, but I want to know what is to be done about it. My information is that those on the Rural Depopulation Panel have not met for the last four months. What is the reason for that? Do they consider that their job is finished? They make many recommendations to inquire further into this or that, in which case how can that be done by not meeting? Or is it that they want some lead from the Government? I believe that they do need a lead to be given by the Government.

It is not information and facts that we want, because we have them already. Some people are of the opinion that we ought to have a Royal Commission to get more facts and figures. It is not evidence that we want, but real Parliamentary action. The people of Wales would feel that the Council and the Government were far more sincere if they knew that something was to be done. Although a great deal has been done from the economic standpoint in South Wales, we should like the same to be done for the rural areas. It is not until we can give the people economic freedom that we shall get the best results from the cultural point of view. I recommend this Welsh proverb to the House and the Government, and I hope that they will take heed of it— Nid da lle gellir gwell," which means that it is not good if better is possible.

4.35 p.m.

Mr. J. P. L. Thomas (Hereford)

Like my constituency neighbour, I too wish that this Report had been debated earlier. I might add that I did my best, not knowing the decision of the Welsh Parliamentary Committee, to introduce this Report at some considerable length into my speech in the debate last December. That is one of the reasons why I shall be very short indeed today, especially in view of the fact that there are other Members who wish to speak. I should like to say how much we welcome the discussion on the problems of rural Wales to supplement the very useful debate we had on 5th December. I am also glad that this debate is not on the Motion for the Adjournment, and that the Government have taken the advice of those on these benches that the debate should take place on a formal Government Motion. I hope that this will be a precedent for debates of this kind in the future, whichever party may be in power.

On the problems of rural Wales other Members have far more intimate knowledge than I have, but on the general problem, I must say, like the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), that I have been profoundly shocked by some of the figures given in the Report. I strongly support him in regard to the housing figures. We are told that 45 per cent. of the rural houses in Wales need re-conditioning, and that 26 per cent. of the rural households are without piped water as against 6 per cent. for the rest of Great Britain. The hon. Member gave specific instances, such as Montgomery and Cardiganshire, where the rate is extraordinarily high. The general rate remains at 26 per cent., as opposed to 6 per cent. for other parts of Great Britain.

The hon. Member also spoke about the nationalisation of water. I cannot agree with what he had to say on this, nor I think will the ex-Minister of Health, now Minister of Labour, who at the Margate Conference in 1947 stated that nationalisation of our water supplies would not give us an extra drop of water. I would point out that of the £15 million left for rural water supplies under the Rural Water Act of 1944, introduced by the National Government before they broke op, only £152,000 has been spent on completing schemes for our water supplies in the Principality.

Apart from that, 47 per cent. of the Welsh roads are unclassified and deteriorating rapidly, and 45 per cent. of our agricultural homes are without electricity. This presents a sombre and depressing picture, and it is a very great challenge to all those in responsibility, both now and in the future, to do everything possible to make good the leeway in the provision of rural amenities.

The Council made two observations or recommendations that are of general interest and importance, and it is because of these that I wish to say a word in this debate. The first is in paragraph 183 of the Memorandum, where the Council speak of the need for some organising and co-ordinating authority, with adequate powers, to promote the welfare and interest of the rural areas and the development of those areas. We have no doubt whatsoever that this need exists. For example, let us compare the statement on depopulation, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, with the housing needs of the rural areas, which demand immediate definite and exceptional action of considerable magnitude. The figures are given in paragraph 112, which I quoted in the debate last September, and they show quite clearly that the Principality, far from receiving exceptional attention, is actually getting less than its fair share so far as the building programme is concerned.

I have no doubt that that co-ordinating power should be a Cabinet Minister with special responsibility for Welsh affairs, as I said in the debate last December. I understand that the Government are not likely to accept this particular remedy, but I do ask them specifically whether they agree that the need for a co-ordinating authority exists. If so, perhaps the Minister of Agriculture will in reply tell us what action the Government propose to take.

Secondly, there is paragraph 183 in which the Council for Wales supports the demand of the Panel on Depopulation that the Council themselves should be given authority to undertake with an independent staff a more authoritative investigation into the problems of rural Wales, including all aspects of Welsh administration. I am not so dogmatic on this particular need as I am on the need for a co-ordinating authority, but I think that the work this Council has done is extremely valuable. The Report is excellent, and the members of the Council have indeed deserved well of Wales. Therefore, if the Government can see their way to provide the facilities for an investigation as proposed by this Memorandum we on these benches will welcome it, and we feel it essential that today in winding up this debate the Minister of Agriculture should give some indication of the Government's intentions on this point.

Although by birth I am a Welshman, I cannot claim to be a Member of Parliament for a Welsh constituency. It is therefore perhaps easier for me to say that I must protest that a day, or even a day and a half, is not a sufficient allocation of time in which to allow Wales to lick her national sores. It is no good the Postmaster-General coming along here with the perfect bedside manner, as he did last December, and telling us that we now have much to sing about. There has been in the past, far too much complacency about the Principality, and there is far too much complacency today, and I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will take the chance this evening to respond to the needs described in the excellent Memorandum of the Council for Wales and indicate a genuine willingness to take advice offered in the Report.

4.43 p.m.

Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)

I find myself, rather surprisingly, in agreement with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) when he says that a day and a quarter a Session is not enough in which adequately to discuss the affairs of Wales. I agree also with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins)—whom I congratulate on opening the debate today with such ability—that two hours and 50 minutes is certainly not enough for a discussion on the Report of the Council for Wales. I hope it is no reflection of the value the Government set either upon the Council or upon its Report.

I, too, congratulate the Council upon the Report they have issued. I think it is valuable, although I agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor that it is in many ways very disquieting. It has brought into the full glare of the searchlight many conditions which all Welsh Members know to have existed in Wales, untouched and unchanged, for a very great number of years, and which have been disclosed in many reports before this. We have for a long time been familiar with the numbers of those who have been driven by economic necessity from the industrial areas, but in this Report we now come face to face with some very striking figures about the migration from the rural areas.

There is one particular fact which I should like to quote to the House, and that is that the proportion of people relative to the total population that left rural Wales between 1911 and 1948 is nearly as high as the proportion that left the whole of Wales. That is including the industrial areas. Breaking down that figure we find that the outward migration is as great from some rural areas as from boroughs like Merthyr Tydvil. Of course, this general drift away from the countryside is common to the whole of the United Kingdom; it has been going on gradually for the past 60 years throughout Britain. I believe it is unfortunate in its consequences wherever it occurs, but the consequences for us of a migration of this kind are far more disastrous than they could be in England, because they constitute a threat to our national culture, to our language and to our distinctive way of life, since it is in these very areas that our culture is most firmly entrenched.

I believe that one of the most disturbing features of this Report is that, despite the fact that there has been a great improvement in agriculture and in the earnings of agriculture workers, and of workers in the countryside generally, the drift from the countryside is continuing. That is a very serious factor indeed, and I therefore agree with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor when he says that we must, in the main, look for the cause of the migration, to the lack of amenities, particularly to the wretched housing conditions in the villages of Wales. Bad as housing conditions in rural England are, the housing conditions in rural Wales are ten times worse.

Mr. Peart (Workington) indicated dissent.

Lady Megan Lloyd George

It is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. I was a member of the Hobhouse Committee on Rural Housing, which issued a report, and it was not very easy to convince certain members of that Committee of the necessity of special action with regard to rural areas. The suggestion was made to them—which I may say, I supported—that the Committee should visit Wales to see some of the conditions. They did so, and that Committee completely changed its opinion about rural conditions after seeing some of the hovels that there were in the villages in Wales.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

What a heritage from the past!

Lady Megan Lloyd George

I agree. What a heritage left by the Tory land robbers! I had decided not to be controversial today. I had hoped that controversy would be eschewed on every side, and the hon. Member should not have drawn me.

I believe that housing conditions in rural Wales are far worse than they are in England. What is being done? There is a programme whereby sites for 83,000 houses have been approved. What has been done since the war? Nine thousand houses have been built in 59 rural districts, and 4,000 to 5,000 are either under consideration or have been approved. If we proceed at that rate it will be 30 years before that programme of 83,000 is fulfilled.

The hon. Gentleman has given figures about the needs of rural Wales. This will be a very serious thing if the problem is left virtually untouched, as it will be unless special action is taken. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the high proportion of houses in rural Wales without a piped water supply. In some counties the proportion is as high as 90 per cent., and I regret that that is the case in my own constituency. I am one who would heartily support a Bill for the nationalisation of water supplies, and I hope that the Government will bring in such a Measure as soon as possible.

The new generation will not put up with present-day conditions. The housewife in the countryside demands, and she is entitled to, as good amenities as the housewife in the towns. If she cannot get them, she will migrate with her husband and family to the towns.

Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)

What about Llangefni?

Lady Megan Lloyd George

May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that, although the housing conditions are bad in Llangefni, up to three years ago it held the record for building new houses throughout the whole of the country. I am pointing out how well they are attempting to tackle this very difficult problem in the rural areas. These conditions are extremely detrimental, as hon. Members realise, to the health of the community, and the Report of the,Council for Wales has a very striking passage, which I would like to read to the House. They say: The information given … that is, on rural housing discloses an extremely serious situation and causes the Panel grave anxiety as to the future of the areas affected and the health of the inhabitants, and it is evident to them that immediate, definite and exceptional action of considerable magnitude must be taken to meet the situation. That is the view of the Council for Wales, after having undertaken this investigation into housing conditions. They have painted a grim and a desolate picture of housing in rural areas in Wales. I hope that somehow or other we may be able to find ways and means of tackling this problem in an effective manner; but it is not going to be easy. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor said, it is a legacy which goes a long way into the past.

I would like to turn to one other aspect of rural population. That is the unemployment which still exists in rural areas, and which will persist unless new industries are brought into the countryside. We realise that a certain number of industries have come to rural Wales. In fact, the face of North Wales has become industrialised since the war and that industrialisation certainly began during the war.

Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)

Twenty years ago.

Lady Megan Lloyd George

I think that the hon. Member will agree that it has been considerably accelerated. It has in Flintshire, as well. So far as the rural parts of Wales are concerned, including Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and Merioneth, it certainly has altered in the last ten years. It started during the war. A few of these factories have been closed, and others are in danger of being closed. I would ask the Government to see that a fair proportion of armament orders are sent into the factories in North Wales so that they will not have to close.

In the Report of the Council, they express certain misgivings about the future of industries in Wales. They say that the survival of many of the new industries in Wales which are subsidiary to larger concerns outside Wales may be highly problematical. I think that is quite correct, and it is something which we have to face. Therefore, I hope that, in the main, the development which will be undertaken in the future will be to encourage industries ancillary to agriculture, such as cheese and bacon factories.

There is one point which I would like to raise with the Minister, and ask him to deal with when he comes to reply. At the moment, cattle and sheep are taken outside Wales to Birkenhead for slaughter, whereas in the old days that was done locally. There were factories which gave employment to workers in the countryside in which the skins and wools were treated. I hope very much that the Government will give consideration to this problem because I think that local slaughtering would encourage local industries.

I hope particularly that encouragement will be given to the development of the woollen industry in Wales. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that we shall have to depend increasingly upon the woollen industry for our export trade to fill the gap which will be left by the exports which will be diverted into the re-armament programme. Here is an opportunity to develop the woollen industry in Wales. There is no reason why Wales should not have as important and as valuable a market in this respect as that of Scotland. After all, the quality of the goods is just as good; although I cannot say that the organisation in marketing is quite as good.

Mr. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland) indicated dissent.

Lady Megan Lloyd George

The hon. Gentleman dissents, but he has had a great many more opportunities than Welsh Members have had of putting the case for Scotland. I hope that in this matter of development, reorganisation and modernisation the Welsh industry will be given every encouragement. I think that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor spoke about special measures to assist industries in rural areas. I hope that the Government will make every use of the Development Commission which was set up under a beneficent Liberal Government in 1911.

The last point which I wish to make is about administration in Wales. The Council have made some very valuable recommendations. What is to happen to them? Are they to be put on to the shelf, or is any action to be taken on that Report? That is the test of the value of the Report, and, if I may say so with respect, the test of the value of the Council itself. We have all the evidence that we want; now we want some action. In their final paragraph the Council brings us right up against this problem. What do they say? There is an urgent need for a more detailed and authoritative investigation by the Council, with full Government authority and direction … into all aspects of Welsh administration … and the relationships"— and this is what I would ask the Government to note— between Government Offices in Wales and central Departments. The Council are not alone in thinking that it is time that such an investigation should take place. There is a great and growing number of people in all parties and of no party who believe that an investigation into this whole question of Government is urgent and should be undertaken without delay. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would allow me I would show him that I am not as nebulous as he would wish me to be.

What is the position today? The Minister of Agriculture is to reply to this debate. But the House is not merely discussing agricultural problems. We are discussing a Report which is concerned with rural housing. The right hon. Gentleman has no direct responsibility for that. We are discussing the question of establishing industries in rural areas. That is a matter for the Board of Trade. Local government is involved. That is a matter for the Minister of Local Government and Planning. Roads and communications have already been mentioned in the debate. Where is the Minister of Transport? Are we to get a reply from him?

In the six years in which we have had debates in Welsh affairs in this House, we have had a succession of Ministers replying to them and they were concerned with only one aspect of the problem of Wales. We have not yet done the whole round of Whitehall. It would take us 10 years to do that, and we have only had six years so far. I am not criticising the Government in this respect. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Hon. Members on the Opposition side will get their opportunity later of doing so. As I say, I am not criticising the Government; it is the system which is wrong. The system, in my judgment, must be changed. Until we change it we have very little chance of getting to real grips with the problems which are brought to light in this Report of the Council of Wales.

The Foreign Secretary, at the inaugural meeting of the Council of Wales, said that the Government would do their best to help us. I do not doubt their sympathy at all. I do not doubt their good will. It is not lack of sympathy——

Sir H. Williams

But capacity.

Lady Megan Lloyd George

No, it is lack of understanding and it arises not from any conscious antagonism, not from any malign purpose, but from the simple fact that they are not Welshmen. They are, in fact, strangers trying to move in a strange land. That is what it comes to. For instance, to suggest requisitioning land for military purposes in an area which is sacred to every Welshman was a thing that no Welshman would have done or, indeed, could have done. He would have been conscious of it. It is exactly as though a Welsh Secretary of State had suggested requisitioning the Derby racecourse for a tank training ground, which a Methodist synod would have done with pleasure.

I hope that the Government will not be deluded into thinking that it is only a handful of Nationalists, that it is only a few hotheads like the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor, the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. William Elwyn Jones), the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), my hon. Friends on this bench and myself who are in favour of devolution. It is a movement which is gathering strength and momentum every day. I would remind the House that even the Council of Wales, appointed by the Government, are extremely uneasy about the present administrative set-up in Wales.

We are often told that Wales is an uneconomic area, but with what country is that not the case today? People say to us, "How will the granting of self-government help you there?" It is absolutely irrelevant; it is beside the point. It is a curious thing that such an argument was not raised when the question of granting self-government to Ceylon, India or Pakistan was contemplated. It is not raised when the Secretary of State for the Colonies is planning and encouraging the granting of self-government to colonial peoples—and that for a very good reason. It is because self-government is a vital element in the progress and development of those countries, and no one knows that better than the Lord Privy Seal, whom we are all glad to see sitting on the Treasury Bench this afternoon.

It is an interesting fact that all those countries that have gained their freedom in this century have developed a new industrial prosperity. I believe that a measure of devolution would be a challenge to the genius and courage of the Welsh people, and I myself believe that what Wales needs, what she wants— and she will be satisfied with nothing less —is government of the Welsh people by the Welsh people, for the Welsh people

5.8 p.m.

Mr. David Grenfell (Gower)

I should like to congratulate the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) on the first part of her speech. I am not quite sure that she was in order in the concluding passages, and I do not think we can do much good in this debate today if we pursue that line of argument on the subject of the future form of government of Wales. We have to consider the White Paper which has been presented to this House, and I should like to congratulate the authors of it. The Council of Wales have done nothing better to elucidate the nature of the problems in Wales.

Sometimes we find people looking at Wales through the wrong end of the telescope. Wales seems so far away and so small that it is utterly insignificant and unworthy of attention. That is the wrong way to look at it. The Council of Wales have not done that. There is evidence in their report that they have paid attention on the spot to the location and nature of the problems which beset that country. I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture will continue to stay with us this afternoon, although I do not propose entirely to concentrate on the aspects of rural life which concern agriculture. It is very important that we should have Government representatives during this debate, and I hope they will stay and hear the comments on the Report of the Council of Wales.

I myself am very anxious to examine Wales not as a patient, hopeless of recovery, and a diseased part of the United Kingdom, but as a community suffering from temporary dislocation of its industries and its common life. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs knows this side of Wales as I do. There- is a story of industrial development in Wales unequalled in any part of Britain. One hundred years ago Wales produced half the iron for Great Britain and one-third of the coal. In the years 1845 to 1848 there was great industrial activity there, and the flow of immigration was not out of Wales but into Wales for many decades. Hundreds of thousands of people came from the neighbouring counties of England into Wales. Irish people also in very large numbers in the Hungry Forties came to Wales and settled there. I owe my very existence and my place in this House to the fact that my grandfather was a migrant into Wales from Cornwall. Such migrants came and married Welsh girls and became perfect citizens. I am now as proud of Wales as any man could be. I know no more intelligent people with a higher standard of popular culture anywhere in the world.

It would be very hard that this occasion should be one reflecting only the natural disquiet about the conditions in Wales. I want to start my speech by assuring everybody that this is not a proof of intrinsic constitutional disability on the part of Wales. I have said that people came from all parts of the United Kingdom to Wales. They formed a very large part of the population and manned our rapidly growing industries. We have also sent more goods out to the world's markets than any other part of the Kingdom. I remember going down to the quayside in Swansea, as a boy, and watching the ships, gallant little ships, leaving the port of Swansea to go round the Horn. They were to deliver their coal cargoes at places like San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Chile, and would come back months later loaded to the hatches almost with grain, iron ore, copper ore, and other raw materials for the expanding industries of Wales. That was within my lifetime. Since then we have seen tremendous activity and vast changes in the world and Wales is now very much poorer than 40 years ago.

In examining the problem of Wales we must look not only at the remote rural areas but at the entire population which is less than it was 30 or 40 years ago. This is the responsibility which falls upon the Government of doing something, anything, which will succeed in injecting new vigour and new life into the depressed areas. It is not a disease and Wales is not an incurable patient but one which is temporarily sick and can be stimulated into the fullest activity. We have to take care of the weakest link in the structure of Wales, so the Council of Wales have appropriately confined their attention to the rural area. There are sad spots to be seen in rural Wales at the present time. So much do we regret them that we call attention to them as soon as possible. No one in rural England would imagine that everything in the garden there is lovely. That is a part of the problem in which we have to find the highest level, in endeavouring to equalise the opportunities of life in rural areas with those of urban areas. With proper plans Wales can recover the sound vigour, health and energy, to which she is entitled.

The White Paper calls attention in the first instance to the very serious fact of rural depopulation. Young people go away. I do not care where we turn our eyes. If we were to take away young people from the City of London or from any of our prosperous cities there would be hardly anything left. That is the problem in Wales. It is an ordinary problem of ordinary weakness and lack of confidence that comes of being old, and from the loss of young people. The average age in Wales is far too high and the conditions in which people live are far too low.

The average age of the houses is probably 80 or 90 years. Many of them are 200 years old. The figures are given of amenities. For example, 40 per cent. of the houses in rural areas are without a piped water supply. For Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, the figure is 73 per cent. That is the state of things in the noble Lady's division. It is not her fault. It is a condition that we have all inherited, with our pride of race and of association. Some rural districts were worse. In 1944 the figure was 93 per cent. in Anglesey.

Here is a matter which is worth studying by the Ministers responsible, and not merely by the Minister of Agriculture but by all responsible Ministers who are involved in this matter. From 1911 to 1948 migration from the rural areas was in full swing, even before the main industrial invasion. From 1911 to 1948 the population in Group I, which is on page 56 of the Report, fell by 29.35 per cent. in Merioneth and Denbigh, for example.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the Ministers responsible. Surely they are the Ministers of the past who did not attend to this problem.

Mr. Grenfell

Well, they are all dead now. In Cardigan, the figure was 15.43 per cent., Montgomery 90 per cent., Pembrokeshire 73 per cent. What sort of prosperity can we expect from Wales if not only the population has declined, but their finance also. There is no efficiency possible in organisation without manpower. We cannot have an army, we cannot have any industry, unless there is sufficient manpower. There is not sufficient manpower on the land in our counties now. There are no people there to build new houses or to develop work of any kind. The craftsmen are the first to leave our industries. Long ago the blacksmith, the carpenter and the mason have gone away from the villages to the towns where there is life and possibly a chance of earning a living, where also there is rational entertainment. We have not planned this. It does not happen by wishing or by passing unanimous resolutions in this House but only by planning new life in Wales. That is my wish.

I want an entirely new constitution and the renewal of earlier possibilities. I want opportunities given to that little country, which has produced men and women who have excelled in the world. We must keep up our standards and do better. We cannot restore health without the transfusion of new blood into Wales. Financial provision must be made for Wales, and organisation must be brought into use, and when we have the goodwill and the support of Governmental authorities we must have a Welsh Development Commission in Wales, consisting in the main of Welsh people on the spot doing the job which is necessary to save that small country. I recommend to the House and to the Government the setting up of a Wales Development Commission, with not less than £200 million at its disposal for a start to commence the planning and the carrying out of the plan. Do not let us be stingy, for nothing will be done on those terms.

I am very glad today to be able to take part in this debate with fellow countrymen of mine of whom I am very proud and whom I love very much, and whom I should like to serve more efficiently than I have been able at any time in the past. I want the House to listen to us, take our point of view and share our confidence, and support by tangible means the reconstruction and rehabilitation of that small country.

5.22 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture (Mr. George Brown)

I trust that the House, particularly hon. Members who sit for con- stituencies in the Principality, will not take it amiss if I intervene at this stage— I shall be as brief as those who have preceded me—merely to deal in the main with the first part of the Council's Report. I agreed very much with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. J. P. L. Thomas) that in this Report we have a good deal, if not all, of the evidence we need, that it shows a disquieting situation in many ways, and that it should be a challenge to everybody who has executive powers in this matter.

From the point of view of Departmental interest, for which I am now speaking, we accept that is.so, and I want to direct attention to the sort of things that we are doing and the effect that we think they are having. I should first like to associate myself with the congratulations which have been offered to the Chairman of the National Council for Wales, whom I should like to mention personally. Not only is he a friend of mine of many years standing, but he is one from whom I have received as much instruction in this field, and in others, as I have had from anybody. I should also like to congratulate the Council upon the excellence of their Report.

Several hon. Members have asked what we are now going to do about the major field that it covers. The Government will be discussing with the Council in the very-near future the question of the Report. the suggestions that it makes and the next steps that are to be taken. The first part of the Report is on the work of the Panel on Marginal Land. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) said, this is very largely the problem of the de-population of the rural areas in Wales. In the last three years I have seen for myself the rural areas in almost every county in Wales and on almost every type of land. It is very largely a question of poverty.

The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) made it quite clear that she did not expect me, as I am not a Welshman, to follow her into the realms of what Welshmen can do and Englishmen cannot do, and I shall not attempt to do that; but, whatever the position about that may be, the fact remains that in the end it is the concrete things that are done, as much as the good-sounding nationalist sentiments that are uttered, which will conquer the problem of poverty. The attack of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has been directed to finding ways and means of getting concrete things done to raise the level of farming, increase the prosperity of the rural areas and improve the standard of equipment, and it is about that that I want to talk.

It is inevitable that a Report such as this should draw particular attention to the problems so that the general picture emerges as a somewhat gloomy one, because these problems are news in that sense. I ought perhaps to begin by saying that in many ways the position of Welsh agriculture today, and therefore of the rural areas, is a much more buoyant and hopeful one than it has often been in the past. Like the western half of England, Wales has just emerged from perhaps the worst harvest, in the sense of the difficulties of getting it in, for a very long time. It has been extremely difficult to get the crops in and to get enough feed to hold the livestock population at a good figure.

Nevertheless, it ought to be put on record in a debate like this that Welsh agriculture has now a cattle population almost as high as it has ever been. We had something like one million at the end of June. Because of the difficulties of getting in the harvest and of getting enough feed to see the livestock through the winter, there was a not unnatural hesitancy to carry additional stock and there was a very slight drop in the December figures. Farmers fattened their animals and slaughtered them for meat rather than risk carrying them through what might have been a difficult winter, but, even so, the figures were some 934,000 at the end of December. Sheep are a matter of great importance for large parts of rural Wales and for much of the land about which we have been talking, and the sheep stocks at the end of December were 2,871,000, which means that they were almost back to the record winter figures of just before the great disaster of 1947. This represents an enormous effort by Welsh sheep farmers.

The December figure for pigs was 145,000. Pig stocks have shown a steady rise. This is most important, because it shows considerable faith in the future. Most of us would agree that in relation to the rural areas of Wales the important thing is to stimulate faith in the future. That will have as much to do with maintaining the population as anything else. The figure for breeding pigs rose by 37 per cent. over the previous return. That represents a considerable investment for the future. Poultry stocks at over four million are still expanding and we have passed the previous record figures.

As to crops, we have had a very depressing winter and the wet weather has now continued well beyond the middle of March, and, therefore, the wheat acreage sown is bound to be considerably below what we should have liked. It will obviously be very difficult in that part of the United Kingdom to make a sufficiently large spring sowing to compensate for this. All that one can hope is that we shall compensate to some extent for the loss of wheat, owing to the weather and the difficulty of the season, by an increase in the coarse grain crops which will help those areas, as well as the rest of the country, very much with their livestock feeding problem.

I was glad to see that the Council called attention, on page 15 of the Report, to the conservation of the grass produced in Wales. To some parts of the Kingdom the excessive rainfall has been something which has occurred in the early months of 1951 and will not occur again, but excessive rainfall is a problem which is always likely to be with Wales because of its geography. We cannot combat the rain, but it is most important to take steps to combat the effects of the rain by having much better arrangements to use the grass, which is a by-product of the rain.

The silage production to which the Report refers is estimated for this year at 100,000 tons compared with only 20,000 tons in 1948–49. That by itself will mean a great increase in the head of livestock that can be carried because of the greater feed value in it. There were 60 grass drying plants in operation in Wales last year, and I hope that the combination of the faith in the future which the Welsh farmer clearly has, and the impressive desire of the National Agricultural Advisory Service to improve the agriculture of Wales, will lead to an even greater increase both in the productivity and the use that is made of the grassland.

Having said, as a background, that there is a buoyant and improving rural industry, I turn now to the marginal land problem with which the Report is to a large extent concerned. I agree that marginal land provides a considerable social problem, quite apart from anything we can do agriculturally. It involves, inevitably, the continuance of many really uneconomic units in term of size as part of a social policy. If people live there it means that the cost of carrying social services to them becomes much too high to be done easily. That is an aspect which the Report brings out and with which we agree.

What the Government can and must do falls under two heads: first, the Government must provide financial help which will improve the land itself, in so far as that is practicable; second, the Government must provide financial help which will give better living conditions for the farmer and his staff, and for the livestock they have to look after in those areas. Those are the two things with which my right hon. Friend's Department has mostly to concern itself.

The first class of scheme, for dealing with the improvement of the land, we try to carry out under the Marginal Production Scheme, which helps occupiers to deal with parts of their farms and lift them out of a marginal category. It mainly affects those who farm on the lowlands. The other class of scheme comes under the Hill Farming Act—the Livestock Rearing Act as it will be— whereby owners and occupiers can enter into partnership with State assistance to rehabilitate the whole of their farms. That will affect mainly the upland areas.

Under the Marginal Production Scheme we are able to make, and have been making, grants in respect of programmes of work which would be uneconomic if undertaken without assistance from the Government in this way——

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