HC Deb 21 March 1951 vol 485 cc2462-91

Question again proposed, That this House takes note of the Memorandum on the activities of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, Command Paper 8060.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. G. Brown

I was about to give to the House some figures about the grants we have made under the Marginal Production Scheme since it began on 1st April, 1949, until as near as possible to the present day. Up to 28th February this year, we had authorised 6,102 grants amounting to £297,729, which represents nearly £600,000 worth of work of improvement to marginal land in Wales. From the beginning of the current financial year, as the House will know, the amount we are able to spend under the scheme has been doubled and we have extended the field that can be covered in the way of improvement work to the land in Wales, so that it covers improvement to old ridge and furrow grassland, land covered by light scrub, anthills, rushes and bracken, and infested land of that kind.

In the 10 months of this financial year we have already allocated nearly £130,000 in grants, covering some 2,000 holdings in Wales. Remembering the shocking weather we have had since August that means that despite the difficulties a tremendous amount of work is going on under this scheme to improve the marginal land, about which we are all concerned. So far this year we have actually paid out to farmers, as distinct from merely approved, £65,000 under this head.

The second kind of scheme is the rehabilitation of farms, particularly in the upland areas. The vehicle under which we have done that is the Hill Farming Act, 1946. So far, 27 per cent. of the eligible farms in Wales have put in schemes under the Hill Farming Act and in Merioneth—it may be that they are nearer their canny Celtic brothers further north—the figure is 47 per cent. of the eligible farms.

The number of live proposals in Wales at the end of January was 2,198, which related to 2,550 holdings and covered a total acreage of no less than 620,000. They represent work on those holdings of a total cost of very nearly £2,500,000. The rate of grant to be paid on these schemes being 50 per cent. It must be conceded that by that means alone a tremendous contribution to the marginal land problem is already clearly in hand.

I thought the House might be interested to have the break-down of these global figures into some of the more important headings under which the grant is being given. There are 19 different forms of improvement that can be grant aided. I will not give all the details, but I will give the more significant. Farm buildings account for £431,000; farm houses being improved and repaired £310,000; farm cottages £41,000; roads and bridges—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor referred—£115,000. This, of course, has nothing to do with what is done under the Ministry of Transport and by other arrangements for roads. Water supply schemes amounted to £109,000 and electricity schemes—which have nothing to do with the major schemes which the electricity boards may have on hand—£71,000. Sheep dipping accommodation, which is of enormous importance if we are to rehabilitate these flocks, accounted for £40,000.

Each visit I make to Wales brings home again to me how vitally important and how terribly neglected for the last 50 years or so has been the, question of fencing and how large a factor that has been in reducing the rural areas. It accounted for £305,000; for drainage there was £75,000; shelter belts, £31,000 and liming—and we all know how tremendously important that is—£152,000; manuring and re-seeding amounted to £456,000 and the removal of bracken and burning of heather, £23,000.

There are other headings, but the figures I have given will be enough to show the kind of vital scheme which has received considerable grant aid from public money. To that extent we are already biting deeply into this real core of the marginal land problem. Some 50 per cent. of the total amount is for the improvement of living conditions of the farmer, his staff and his livestock. That is most important in the light of what the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey and others have said about the need for improving the living accommodation of those who live in the country. As far as we can do it through our Departmental interests we have directed what attention and public money we could to this particular heading. Of the 2,198 live schemes, 380 are under consideration, 1,236 awaiting final approval and 531 already approved.

The disappointing thing is that when one inquires what has been paid out one gets a figure of £39,300 to the end of February, but it is cheering to note that in the last two or three months, this year, the accounts on which we pay grants have begun to come in very much quicker. I will explain the mechanics of this and how far they are controlled by the vigour with which the farmer himself moves. January was a record month for paying out since the beginning of the scheme. We paid more than £8,200 in that month and we paid £14,500 in January and February this year, so that we now are beginning to get the schemes which have been considered since 1946 coming to fruition and no one is more glad than my right hon. Friend that we are beginning to pay.

The question of delay has often been raised and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor frequently refers to it. Perhaps I may explain how it works. The important thing to remember is that no scheme needs to be held up while approval is being given. Our land commissioners in Wales can give the authority to start even in advance of the preparation of the scheme actually being completed. He can say, "You can go ahead with the work so long as you come forward with a scheme which we are able to approve at a later date and the grant will be paid even though the work was started before the whole scheme was approved." In that way we have been able to secure that the work goes on even before the drawing of plans, and so on. Well over half the schemes have had approval to proceed on that basis, so that the work is not held up.

One of our problems is that farmers themselves are apt to take a considerable time before carrying out the work. Those who have influence in the rural areas of Wales should put considerable pressure, if pressure is the right word, on the farmers in those areas, not only to take advantage of the Act to bring forward schemes, but to get them pushed ahead with all the vigour they can command.

I wish to say something which arises out of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and the speech of the noble Lady and of the Council's Report. I do not think there is any doubt that the shortage of builders and craftsmen for work in the remoter areas is a considerable handicap to all one would like to do to re-populate those areas. We are looking into the matter and we hope that the sort of demand for building work we are making effective by these grants will be an attraction to plasterers and workers of that kind to come back to these areas.

The natural development of the Hill Farming Act is the Livestock Rearing Act, to which we have just heard the Royal Assent given. Here we have the obvious and logical outcome of the Council's recommendations, as given in paragraph 65. One of the interesting and pleasing things about this is that the Livestock Rearing Act so completely carried out the recommendations and suggestions the Council for Wales makes. Hon. Members have said that we have the Council, the evidence and the recommendation and that now we want action.

That is a very noble and understandable sentiment, but nobody has pointed out that we could not have had action any quicker than we have had it under the Livestock Rearing Act with regard to the proposals made by the Council to deal with the problem of marginal land. The Panel on marginal land made their forecast and to a large extent influenced the provisions of the Livestock Rearing Act, and action has followed. Royal Assent has been given within six months of the Council's Report being available to the House. I should have thought that that would have been regarded as evidence of the Government's intention to take very seriously suggestions made by the Council.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

May I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraphs 57 and 62 of the Council's Report where, in consultation with the county committees, the Council say that as many as 415,000 acres of marginal land are improvable at a reasonable cost—I think £20 to £30 an acre—with a maintenance payment afterwards of about £2 an acre? Does the hon. Gentleman think that the Livestock Rearing Act will tackle that vast problem in the rural areas?

Mr. Brown

I think the Livestock Rearing Act will enable us to tackle as much of the problem as the total amount of money available will stand. Obviously, with all the other expenditure going on, there must at the moment be a limit to the amount of money which the taxpayer can make available for this purpose. But we have £22 million here and this is the sort of land we shall be able to cover. Of course, it will not cover all the land in Wales, any more than it will cover all the land in the marginal areas of England, but it will go a very considerable way.

The details of the Act are very much as the Council recommended in paragraphs 69, 70 and 71. I will not read them to the House, for hon. Members can look them up, and probably have already done so. There is some £40 million to be invested in the rehabilitation of this stock-rearing land in the upland areas of the United Kingdom over the next five years. There will be a maximum grant aid of £22 million of which Wales will have its fair share. That cannot be enough to deal with all the land, but we assume that it will deal with about one-third of all the land in this category, which will be a very considerable amount.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor asked about the special area which the Council mention in paragraph 75 and about the particular work we might do there. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the Minister has taken note of the Council's recommendation on this point and is now considering whether, as they request, he should ask the Welsh Land Sub-Commission to investigate the matter and advise in any special action which we can take. In due course he will consider the advice of the Sub-Commission, which is exactly what we have been asked to do by the National Council, so that once again the noble Lady will see that action is following very quickly on a specific recommendation.

It is, of course, much easier for action to follow a specific proposal than it is for action to follow a general condemnation or a general blanket criticism, and I think that wherever we have had specific proposals we have dealt with them. If I might digress for a moment, I should like to deal with a point made by the noble Lady who spoke about the problem of slaughtering animals. I can assure her that we shall consider the specific recommendations she made in the general consideration the Government are giving to a national policy on slaughtering and on meat. I will see that the question of slaughtering and Birkenhead, which she asked, will be borne in mind in the general examination.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor asked me to make sure that the widest publicity was given to the possibilities created by the Livestock Rearing Act and I can assure him that that will be done. We shall look into the proposals which he made and shall see that a descriptive bulletin is issued in Welsh and in English, and that broadcasts in Welsh as well as in English are made regularly so that people can take as much advantage of the schemes as possible.

I turn now to the question of water supplies, and particularly farm schemes, although I should like to say a few words about rural water supplies generally. Up to 28th February of this year, 8,288 applications for grant aid, involving a total expenditure of £1,377,000 had been submitted for farm water supply schemes and grants amounting to £528,000 had been approved in respect of 7,371 of the schemes. Hon. Members may like to know that Cardiganshire, with 1,334 applications, was the first Welsh county to pass the 1,000 mark and that Carmarthenshire, with 1,235 applications, has the next highest number.

In addition to these farm schemes, which are of enormous importance in re-populating the stock areas of Wales, there have been some 163 public schemes under the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act of 1944, at a total estimated cost of £6 million. These 163 rural water schemes have now been approved and a grant has been promised on them of £2¾ million. Thus, nearly £3 million worth of grant has already been promised on these rural water schemes.

In order to bring the matter into focus, particularly for those who have been criticising the progress, may I point out that this £6 million should be seen against a total of £3½ million spent in the 20 years between the two wars. If one makes all the proper allowances for the increase in costs, this still represents a very considerable rate of increase over the provision of public water supply schemes in the past.

I have shown what a tremendous amount is already being done to tackle this problem of marginal land. That serves as a practical and positive example of the way in which things are being done. There are many other forms of assistance which can be given but, in order to save time, I will not go into them in detail. It may interest the House to have one other figure. I have already mentioned some ways we have been grant-aiding this important work, but I think it is worth noting that, in addition to the guaranteed prices which the Welsh farmer shares with all the other farmers in the United Kingdom—and that is of enormous importance—in the last financial year something like £4 million was made available to Welsh farmers in the way of direct grants under the sort of schemes about which I have been talking. That money went straight away—which is the important thing—into projects of a long-term or short-term value in the lowlands and uplands of Wales.

I have two other points to mention before I sit down. I should not want any Welshman to say that a non-Welshman had taken up too much time in the debate, but if that criticism were made my reply would be that I have taken a very great interest in these problems and that I have been into Wales very nearly as often as many hon. Members who, like myself, are tied here and limited to week-end visits. First of all, may I mention the T.B. eradication scheme? The great thing is that in Wales we have the first of the areas for complete clearance of T.B. from among our cattle. Pembroke, Cardigan, Camarthen and part of Glamorgan have become the first free testing area. Already, 2,700 owners have applied for free testing since we announced the scheme. This represents about one herd in every three of those not attested. The next area we hope to be free in Wales will be Brecon, Radnor, Merioneth and Montgomery. Although there is considerable progress in attestation in that area, something very much better can be done whereby the farmers there will receive the bonus which is available to the owners of beef herds and we shall be able to proceed towards the declaration of a second area.

The Council's Report also deals with farm institutes, and in paragraph 58 the Council very rightly stress that even when we have improved this marginal land the management of it will call for very much higher skill. We have that, plus the change in the traditional system in farming in Wales, and once again we have tried to do our best, as we have tried to do in similar provisions for the higher training of farmers in Wales. We had made plans for expanding farm institutes very considerably. We have approved tenders for a new institute at Celyn, Flintshire, specialising in horticulture, and at Golden Grove, Carmarthenshire, to serve the South West and to accommodate 50 students. We have approved in principle a new institute for 50 students at Glynllifon to serve North-West Wales and a new institute at Llangoed to serve mid-Wales, and we hope that as a result of these proposals to have by 1952 provision for 340 students as against 200 at present. Three hundred of these places should be for Welsh students if they will come forward in sufficient numbers.

I hope I have given the House information and evidence to show that where specific proposals have been made, action has followed; that we have, so far as it lies in our power, tried to deal with the concrete cases of depopulation, the rural problems of marginal land and poverty. With the permission of the House, my right hon. Friend will speak at the end of the debate and deal with other suggestions which impinge upon the Panel on depopulation. I have confined myself to the Panel on marginal land. Hon. Members who are Welsh, or who come from Welsh constituencies, will I hope share my enthusiasm and faith that a very great deal is being done to cure the problem of marginal land in Wales.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)

No one can say that the Parliamentary Secretary has not given us figures. He has given us a great deal of information, some of it, I think, new; and we shall study it in greater detail when it is on paper. One slight complaint which I think might have been voiced by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) who I see is leaving the Chamber—I was putting words into the mouth of the hon. Lady, and saying that this was a criticism which she might have made—was that the Parliamentary Secretary was necessarily rather one-eyed, and was looking at the matter only from the point of view of his Department. In talking about the necessity for roads and electricity he said, "We are doing this"—but this has nothing to do with what the Ministry of Fuel and Power and the Ministry of Transport are doing. It has, of course——

Mr. Brown

No. I said that what we were doing was in addition to what they are doing.

Mr. Birch

Exactly. The hon. Gentleman used the words, "That has nothing to do with what they have done "meaning that it is in addition. I agree. But the point is it has something to do with it, because this is one country, and what anybody does on roads and electricity is relevant; and that is why I complain about his one-eyed approach.

Some hard things were said about the Advisory Council when it was first set up, particularly by my hon. Friends below the Gangway. We, on the other hand, always said that it could do valuable work and I believe that it is doing valuable work. I would join with hon. Members in all parts of the House in saying that I was much impressed by the first Report. I thought it was extremely intelligent; I thought they were thinking about real problems; that they had given those problems some deep thought and that there was some sense of purpose in what they wrote. That makes it a very different document from the Welsh White Paper which, as hon. Members know, is composed as a result of quarterly meetings of civil servants in Cardiff, without any Ministerial direction; and is necessarily therefore only a list of statistics without any real discussion of the problems which have to be solved and with no purpose behind it.

Having congratulated the Council, I hope they will not become empire-builders on the staff side. There is a rather sinister paragraph which refers to the need of a "complete and independent-secretariat." I believe they should rely on the help they get from the Ministries. If they can now produce a good report like this one, I do not think they want a separate secretariat, though they should have the power to call on civil servants for what they want, and power in the Principality equal to that of a Select Committee of this House, that is, the power to send for persons and papers, which I do not think they have at the moment.

I will turn to the question of rural de-population. I was very glad that in their Report the Panel did not come to a final judgment. They did recognise how difficult and how complex is this problem of rural de-population; much more difficult in Wales than elsewhere because one-quarter of our land is over 1,000 ft. and one-third of it between 500 ft. and 1,000 ft. As the noble Lady the hon. Member for Anglesey pointed out, in similar land, both in England and in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, precisely the same problem of rural depopulation has arisen. The difficulty, as the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) pointed out, is that this depopulation is still going on in spite of the fact that farmers in these areas are very much better off than they were before.

It seems to me the truth is that under modern conditions there has been a big break with past traditions. However many amenities we produce—and I am all in favour of producing them—however much we spend on marginal land—and I should have liked to see some of the £36 million which was wasted somewhere else spent on marginal land in Wales—we shall be up against this problem. Under modern conditions, people want an easier life. Women do not like the lonely life in mountain farms. People feel that if they go elsewhere they will have a much fuller life—and who shall blame them? The point I am making is that I am not absolutely certain that it is only a matter of money. I am glad to see that the Panel are to consider this much more deeply, because they may, if they think long enough, get a bigger answer than just money. I do not think money is really the final and absolute answer.

There are three specific recommendations of the Panel upon which I should like to comment. The first, which was touched on by the Parliamentary Secretary, is that the Panel regretted that farmers on poorer land had gone over to milk production. The Panel regretted that. Of course, that is a result of Government policy, and the pull of the monthly milk cheque is obviously immensely powerful. The Panel went on to say that it might be questioned whether milk production was the best form of agricultural production for such areas. I am sure they are right, and that what we want to get back to is what they used to have before, namely, store cattle and sheep.

The Parliamentary Secretary gave some figures about sheep and one of them was, very misleading. I think he will agree, if he reads what he says, that he gave the impression that the sheep population was now higher than it had ever been, or was within striking distance of being higher than it has ever been. If we look at the White Paper, we see the figure for sheep and lambs in 1950 was 3,800,000; whereas in 1939 it was 4,600,000. So we have some way to go to get back to the sheep population which existed before the war.

Meat is very scarce at the moment and wool is very dear. We pray that fantastic prices for wool will not go on. But what is certain is that we can do with all the meat and wool we can get from Wales-for as long ahead as anyone can see. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, we hope that the Livestock Rearing Act will have some effect, but I should like the Minister, if he can, to give some forecast of how quickly it is going to work. I see the pull of the monthly cheque being very powerful. It seems to take a long time to get these schemes into operation. It did with the Hill Farming Act. I am sure the Livestock Act is on the right lines. It is on meat and wool production that we should concentrate.

The second point on which I am sure they are right is that of minor roads. We ought to concentrate now on the minor roads and to leave such questions as the north and south road to a time when our resources are not so stretched as they are today. The third thing they said—and we have always agreed—is that the closing down of so many of our village schools is wrong. That is happening in my constituency now. We get the children herded into enormous schools to which they travel in buses. It takes the children away from the rural atmosphere.

One last comment on land is that there are other ways of getting people off the land besides poverty, and one is by taking up the land and massacring it by opencast coal operations. In Flintshire we have just had official notification that the Ministry of Fuel and Power are now to descend upon the very best land we have and start several schemes of opencast coal mining. And on top of that they are going to put down a disposal point, presumably with concrete hardstanding, on good agricultural land. As we know, we are short of coal, but I cannot really believe that it can be right in present circumstances to ruin first-class agricultural land in the very best part of Flintshire. Frankly, I cannot believe that it is necessary. That is one of the best ways of destroying agriculture and of getting people off the land. People say, "It is not good enough. We will go off and we will not come back. We will take jobs as lorry drivers or something of that sort."

I had wanted to comment upon the speech by the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey about devolution. As we have not much time available, I shall confine myself to a few short remarks. Where I think that she is not doing a good service is in the imprecision of her words and the imprecision of the resolutions which are passed at home rule confer- ences. The noble Lady mentioned a number of very respectable gentlemen on the other side of the House—the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) and others—who were with her on the platform at Cardiff. She did not mention Mr. Idris Cox, the Leader of the Communist Party, or the Welsh Nationalists.

It is worth remembering that they were all there. I cannot believe that they can all have meant the same thing. I have much too great an admiration for the noble Lady to think that she thinks the same as Mr. Cox, or many other people who have been with her on the platform. The trouble with these resolutions is that they are so vague that they might mean anything. A whole lot of people sign them who, if they got together and debated the problem, would find they were in total disagreement about what ought to happen. When the noble Lady talks about devolution and combines that with home rule for Wales, it seems to me that she really is confusing the issue. By definition, devolution means power devolved from a Government. It does not mean complete home rule.

It seems to me that there are three things which can be done in Wales. We can have complete home rule; we can have a subordinate Parliament; or we can have a much greater devolution of authority—that is to say, we can so contrive things that the weight of Whitehall lies less heavily upon us. We Conservatives want to see the third course, with the weight of Whitehall less heavily upon us and Welsh interests more strongly represented at the centre of power by a Minister. We believe that that is right. What I think is wrong is that these conferences should pass resolutions so vague that people who believe in home rule, people who believe in a subordinate Parliament and people who believe in more devolution, all sign on the dotted line when in fact they want quite different things. The issue should be put clearly to the people of Wales to decide which of these three courses they prefer.

6.25 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I welcome this Report of the Council for Wales because I believe that it provides us with an agenda for discussion on which we can all agree even if we do not all go to Llandrindod. I do not mind whether we go to Llandrindod, Caernarvon, Aberystwyth or Cardiff. I do not want to pre-judge the issue as to which shall be the capital of Wales. I welcome the fact that we can have in this Report a meeting place of ideas. That is extremely important. I agree with previous speakers that the sting of this Report is in the tail; in other words, in the final paragraph. We hope very much that the Minister who is to reply to this debate will have something to say about that final paragraph, paragraph 180 on page 48. We believe that the Council has started to do very good work; that it has shown the way to do even better work; but that it cannot do its best work unless it has further powers and, at any rate, some further staff.

I would ask a question of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) and some of my hon. Friends who are trying to by-pass the Council for Wales. Whatever they may say in this House, by their actions in Wales they are in fact trying to by-pass this Council. They are trying to undermine the confidence of Wales in the work which the Council can do. I ask them seriously to consider whether it is not really a necessary step for progress that this Council should be enabled to do effective work. I have to cut short my remarks, because of the time, but I would remind them that they are talking very imprecisely, as the hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), remarked. It is very seldom that East and West Flint agree, but I entirely agree on this occasion. They are talking very imprecisely of home rule for Wales.

They know perfectly well that. if a referendum were taken in Wales today, there would be an overwhelming majority against such a fundamental political change. The majority in the heavily-populated industrial areas of South Wales, and in the partly-industrialised area which I represent, want no such thing. I cannot help feeling that it is to some extent dishonest or, at any rate, unclear thinking, to ignore, or to pretend to ignore, this factor. Unless the rural areas are to be cut off from industrial Wales, which would leave them much more high and dry financially than they are even now, a much more cautious approach is necessary.

The Americans fought a civil war to prevent the secession of the Southern States. We do not want a secession of the rural areas of Wales, but there is a serious danger that there would be a split in Wales if hon. Members took in practice the steps which they very freely advocate upon public platforms. I believe that dogma divides but work unites. It is much more fruitful for those of us in Wales to study the tasks which are at hand, to which attention has been given in the document which we are discussing this afternoon. To give just one example, there is the use of land. There is no question which has aroused more feeling in the Principality in the last few years than this question of land use. Land is required for forestry, for the Services, for housing and industry and indeed for opencast coal mining, which is a sore point at present in Flintshire and, no doubt, elsewhere.

Each of these claims is examined separately, in isolation, on its own merits. It is not examined against any background of agreed policy of land use for the Principality. If it is argued that the same is true of England, I suggest that this is a problem which would benefit in its handling by decentralisation and that Wales is a suitable unit for the purpose. I also believe that it is true to say that Wales is more emphatically land-conscious than England. I have been brought up with a foot in both countries and I believe this is so. It seems to me that, on this subject of land use, there is a possible line of advance for the Council for Wales and that it might be given greater powers in this matter. I suggest that that is something which should be seriously considered both by the Council itself and by the Government.

Lady Megan Lloyd George rose——

Mrs. White

I am sorry that I cannot give way to the noble Lady, but I promised to finish by 6.30 p.m.

I understand that the Council is to meet members of the Government shortly to discuss various problems, including decentralisation, and I am quite sure we shall reach better conclusions if we assist its progress than by making propaganda speeches here and elsewhere.

6.31 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

When I re-read the Report on the depopulation of rural Wales, which forms one of the bases of this short debate, I was most struck by a sentence in paragraph 92: It is important to emphasise that the gravity of this situation for Wales and her future lies in the fact that the migrants are mainly young workers and the future mothers. This process deprives the nation not only of the migrants themselves, but of their potential offspring. In that quotation, I think, there is the key to the whole problem of rural depopulation in Wales. Mere reduction in crude population in an agricultural area is not in itself necessarily an evil. Indeed, it may be a concomitant of a rising standard of living. But the loss of families at the rate at which this loss has been going on, and still is going on, in rural Wales is serious, and may possibly become a fatal thing.

I am sure that I shall have the agreement of the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George)— and I think that no hon. Member from industrial Wales will challenge it—that the essence of Wales is the white cottage or farm half-way up the hillside, with the unfenced upland above it, usually bracken-covered, and below it the chequered pattern of fields stretching down to a stream. That is rural Wales, and only as long as there are families to succeed one another in those farms and cottages of rural Wales will Wales, as we know it and wish it to continue, survive. That survival can only come about if there is vitality in three things; vitality in the home, vitality in the farm, which provides the home with its work; and vitality in the village, which is the community to which the farm belongs. I want to make a few remarks about each of these three elements which are essential to the survival of rural Wales—the home, the farm—particularly the family farm—and the village.

A home is practically synonymous with a house; and I think almost every hon. Member who has spoken in this debate has referred to housing conditions in rural Wales. Perhaps, however, this particular point has not been made. We have today the absurd situation that houses are being built for rural workers, into which rural workers will not go. In local authority areas throughout Wales, houses which have been built for agricultural workers with the agricultural subsidy cannot be let to agricultural workers.

A number of figures are given in paragraph 120 of the Report concerning agricultural rent. The rent of a rural worker's council house is given at about 12s. inclusive. These figures are already out of date for many parts of Wales. Fifteen shillings and more, exclusive, is having to be charged in rent by local authorities, and the consequence is that houses are being built for agricultural workers for which tenants cannot be found. There are many examples of this, but I merely take one or two, which happen to be from the constituency of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins). As he probably knows, there are houses which have been built in his division at Felindre and Llanbistr for agricultural workers, but for which agricultural tenants cannot be found. Even at 10s. a week, houses in some parts of Wales cannot be let to agricultural workers. So we have the absurdity that council houses for farm workers are built but not let, while the agricultural workers remain in their 80 or 100-year old houses.

There is a solution to this, and it lies in a change of heart in Government policy. The resources are there. There are building firms in the small towns and even in the villages of Wales who could be building houses but are not doing so at present. They are engaged on jobbing work, because they are not able to tender to the local authorities, whereas the landowners or farmers who wish to build houses are not able to get the licences to erect them.

I am going to make three suggestions on housing. The first is that the Housing Act, 1949, should be administered with more generosity, at any rate, in Wales. In the administration of that Act at present much too sharp a distinction is being drawn between repairing or reconditioning on the one hand and improvement on the other, and schemes which include an element of both, as indeed they must and should do, are being rejected and torn up on the ground that the Act covers only actual additional improvements. I feel sure that, within the terms of the Act much greater generosity could be shown.

Secondly, we ought to get away from the ratio conception in the local authority areas of Wales. Where a house can be built, it ought to be built, no matter by whom or for whom it is built, and irrespective of the number which the local authority wishes to erect. There are quite special conditions in Wales which affect the number of houses which the local authorities can build. Finally, whoever builds the houses, there must be some revision of standards. I do not mean the health standards, but the standard and amount of accommodation in a house as a whole——

Mr. William Elwyn Jones (Conway)

Surely, the hon. Member must be aware that there are certain rural areas where there are private licences which have not been taken up?

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff. West)

Nor by local authorities.

Mr. Powell

I am well aware that there are areas where the local authority has not built up to the maximum, but my argument is that, wherever a house can be built and a person wants to have a house built, it ought to be built. The whole system should be cut loose from ratio. I repeat, if we can have more flexibility on standards to meet the needs of the agricultural worker and also a new conception regarding the ratio, we shall get away from the dilemma between the houses in which he cannot afford to live and the hovels which he wishes to leave.

Next, there is the question of other amenities. In my view, the key is electricity. If we have electricity, we can deal with the other deficiencies, even water, because a water scheme for a farm can be operated on the basis of electric power. But the electricity must be there first. It is undeniable that Wales has not had her fair share of electrification since the war.

Mr. G. Thomas

Or before.

Mr. Powell

It will be within the knowledge of hon. Members that there were in Wales many electricity companies which sprang up in the 'thirties and which year by year were pushing up the valleys from the centres in which they were located. They had their plans and were ready to go ahead with development after the war, but because of nationalisation nothing happened, precisely because the whole problem was looked at nationally. If a single example is wanted, I would quote that of the Machynlleth Electricity Company, which was a live company, and which by this time, but for nationalisation, would have pushed up several more of the valleys which lead down to the Dovey. That is evidence that through treating this thing on a Great Britain basis, the needs of the small rural areas, which would otherwise have been met, have been neglected.

I will now pass from the home to the farm, which in the typical parts of Wales is mostly a family farm, because the family farm does not face the difficulties of labour shortage which afflict the larger farm or estate, and also because, under modern taxation conditions, it is much easier for the small family farmer to raise his share of the capital necessary for improvements. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture referred to the number of schemes which have been "put in" on the hill farming and marginal land schemes. That phrase misses the point altogether. The question is the speed at which the schemes are being carried out, and unless the Livestock Rearing Bill is implemented at a much faster rate than the Hill Farming Act—which took five years before anything started to come through the pipeline—it will be a grave disappointment indeed.

I make one practical suggestion. Why does not the Minister devolve authority for approving schemes, at least below a certain level, to the county agricultural executive committees? After all, they are his agents in the countryside; so why not use them in this way? If he did, he would get much prompter consideration and approval of such schemes and quicker action.

I wish now to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), with regard to the uneconomic pressures to which Welsh agriculture is being subjected. Where such pressure is leading to the uneconomic production of milk, it is not only distorting the present pattern of Welsh agriculture, but distorting it for the future, because, where dairying is started up, expensive plant is put in and alterations are made, and it is then all the more difficult to revert.

There is another point in the same direction. Let us take the wheat and potato acreage targets. These are another distorting factor, all the more so because they are reckoned in terms of acres. There is no merit in simply having a larger acreage under wheat and potatoes. The important point is whether more wheat or potatoes are produced from that acreage. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to look at these target acreages with regard to their application to the rural parts of Wales.

One final point on the distortion of the pattern of Welsh agriculture. If the producer were given something nearer to world prices for his output—of course. I am thinking at the moment more particularly of wool—he could dispense with a good deal of assistance in the form of subsidies. If we bring Welsh agriculture and the return it receives nearer to economic realities, we shall be doing a service to Wales.

A good many hon. Members have referred to the problem of Welsh rural roads; but I am not sure that anyone has put his finger on the point of greatest difficulty. Reference has been made to unclassified roads, but it is not the unclassified road for which the county council accepts authority which is the trouble. It is the unscheduled road, the nobody's child, which serves, perhaps, four or five farms, a road, as it were, left without a mother by the break-up of some estate, perhaps 50 or 100 years ago, which has never been taken over by a local authority, and yet which is not the responsibility of the owners of the individual farms. Incidentally, I imagine that such owners cannot propose improvement schemes in respect of roads which are not on their land.

These lengths of road are really a very serious hindrance to Welsh agriculture. Now that loads are taken to and from farms in six-ton lorries, lime and fertilisers coming in and produce going out, it means being cut off from the world if a farm happens to be at the end of one of these portions of unscheduled road. I will give the House an example of the scale of this problem. Out of the 1,000 roads in Radnorshire, half are unclassified, and half, again, of the latter are unscheduled. The matter is all the more difficult because the county councils have themselves a struggle to cope with the unclassified roads. After all, expenditure on unclassified roads is almost the only type of local authority expenditure uncontrolled by the central Government. In other words, it is the element on which pressure to economise falls first of all. Therefore, I appeal to the Government to look again at the re-classification and rescheduling of the roads in Wales. No doubt that would mean a change of the law, but it is necessary to bring these roads—these motherless babies—within the scope of the county councils and the attention of the Ministry of Transport.

I have referred to the larger farms, as distinct from the family farms, and to some of their difficulties. Those difficulties can and would partly be met by a greater development in Wales of private forestry. Indeed, the integration of forestry with other types of agriculture is perhaps the direction in which prosperity lies for rural Wales. Particularly would that integration enable labour to be kept steadily employed throughout the year, such labour being local labour, and not, like the labour of the Forestry Commission, gang labour.

I must say a word or two about the Forestry Commission. The two words "Forestry Commission" are probably the most hated and reviled in the whole of Wales. Not even the War Office can compete with the profound and cordial detestation in which the Forestry Commission is held throughout Wales.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)


Mr. Powell

If hon. Members will listen, they will hear the reason why the Forestry Commission is so detested. If they do not believe me, they can go into rural Wales and find out for themselves.

Mr. Cove

You are an Englishman.

Mr. Powell

I am sorry to delay the reply of the Minister, but I am obliged, by the interventions of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove), to observe that this is a United Kingdom Parliament, and that it will be an ill day for Wales when only those who happen to represent Welsh constituencies love and speak for her.

By afforesting the lower slopes of the Welsh hills, the Forestry Commission have cut off the sheep farmers from the summer pastures, the upland pastures, which lie above the afforested belt. They have denied those flocks their natural shelter, and have often thus devastated by means of afforestation much larger areas than they have covered with trees. Had they made a plan to integrate afforestation with agriculture, then afforestation would have been a blessing instead of a scourge to sheep farming in Wales. But, as it is, the Forestry Commission have driven straight ahead, without taking any notice of Welsh opinion or of local conditions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] If hon. Members doubt that, they should inquire whether the Towy scheme was ever considered by the local planning authorities, when they would find that the answer is "No."

Mr. Emrys Roberts (Merioneth)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way for a moment?

Mr. Powell

To enable the Minister to have time to reply, I will not refer to the third element which I mentioned as being essential—the survival of the vitality of the village—except to say that the disappearance of the village school and the village schoolmaster as a natural leader of the rural community is a dangerous trend which must be reversed.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

There is just one point which I want to take from the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), and that is in relation to electricity supplies. There is a great difference between conditions in North Wales and those in South Wales. It is possible for a farmer in any part of North Wales to connect with the main for a sum of £12 but in Carmarthen £200 is demanded from a man 300 yards or so from the main. That is an unwarranted difference. Another difference between North and South Wales is that South Wales Electricity Board is the only board in the country which has not on it a representative of agriculture. Why is that exception made and why is it not redressed?

Both the hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch), and the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), said that Wales talked in imprecise terms about her political outlook. That is true and the reason for that is to be found in the Motion on the Order Paper today. The Motion is to receive a Report. It expresses no opinion at all on the part of the Government on that Report. I have protested before in the House about dealing with this Council directly or reviewing the Council's Report in a direct form. This is not a Chamber for the purpose of reviewing books. This is a Chamber to debate the proposals of the Government and there is no proposal before the House except that we receive the Report.

It is no part of my argument to criticise the members of this Council in any shape or form. But the position with regard to Wales has so changed in the last five years that this is an important matter. I am not going to criticise nationalisation tonight, but the nationalisation Measures have altered the position of Wales far more than they have altered that of any other part of the country. Our main industries, coal, iron and steel and transport are all nationalised, and gas, electricity and agriculture are rigidly State-controlled.

Wales is the only part of this country of which it can be said that all its activities are almost rigidly State-controlled. What follows from that? It is with difficulty that one can put questions across the Floor of the House relating to nationalised industries and it is with difficulty that one can debate a nationalised industry, irrespective of merit. So Wales is excluded, in the ordinary way, from discussing her industries and her every-day affairs on the Floor of the House to a greater degree than any other part of this country.

Mr. Turner-Samuels (Gloucester)

But she has full employment.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that she should be satisfied with the loss of political discussion and political representation in return for full employment? He is treating a very serious issue in a scoffing way.

Mr. Turner-Samuels

I had no intention of scoffing. I was merely pointing out that in spite of that, there was full employment.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

I am discussing a political problem and the political situation in this country. Another problem of importance to the political life of the country follows from it. Today, we are moving away from the right to appear in the courts and the right to have our legitimate claims discussed in and decided by the courts. In the last five years, for instance, over a large field the right has been denied to a body of people to appeal to the courts from the decision of a tribunal.

Reference has been made to the Forestry Commission. I do not propose to criticise the Commission at all. I am criticising the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. He is responsible. This has happened in one Act after another and I do not blame him more than I blame the Minister for Local Government and Planning because the same causes apply throughout. The result is that a Government Department can now appear before a tribunal and demand the right to buy land compulsorily and it need not call a single witness to substantiate its claims before the tribunal. Surely that is a denial of the elementary right of the subject.

The more the industries that control the country are nationalised the more helpless the country becomes. Is it a matter of surprise that there is confusion in Wales under this system? I have been compelled to crowd what I have to say on this very real issue into five minutes. It is a serious issue that should be debated and one which the House should have time to debate, because it affects the constitution not merely of Wales but of this country. Yet no opportunity is given to discuss a major issue of this sort. Is it a wonder that national conferences are called and that there is confusion? Let the House consider who were on the platform at the meeting at Cardiff last Saturday. They were some of the most eminent men in Wales. There is confusion among those eminent people and the blame for that confusion arises because of what has happened in the last five years.

6.57 p.m.

The Minister of Agriculture (Mr. Thomas Williams)

The noble Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George) wanted to know why the Minister of Agriculture was likely to reply to this debate. The answer was very simple. I understood that Welsh Members desired to raise almost wholly and exclusively the question of agriculture. If the Welsh Parliamentary Party had indicated that they wanted to discuss a wide range of subjects, social and otherwise, in Wales, then quite clearly they might have had whatever Minister they wanted to reply to the debate.

Mr. Cove

Neither Liberals nor Tories were at that meeting.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

That is absolutely wrong.

Mr. T. Williams

I do not want to enter into debate. I merely reply to the noble Lady the Member for Anglesey by telling her that it was our understanding that this debate, following the general debate early last year, was to be devoted almost exclusively to agriculture. That is the reason why my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary tried to indicate—I think successfully—how far the Government had gone to give effect to the recommendations made by the Council. I make no apology, therefore, for following him for only a few minutes in this debate, which I regard as of some importance.

I do not agree with the noble Lady when she said that all we had for Wales was lots of sympathy and a plentiful supply of good will. My hon. Friend indicated that we not only have good will for Wales but many millions of pounds which we place at her disposal for rehabilitation. The noble Lady said that we were interested in self-government for Ceylon, Pakistan and India but we were not enthusiastic about self-government for Wales. Perhaps she has forgotten that there are more than 100 Welsh men and women who are Members of this House and they wield a very powerful influence on how this Government or any other Government spend their money and to what they should devote their time. The Minister of Local Government and Planning, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Labour and National Service, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and I do not know how many more Ministers are Welshmen, and they are responsible for a good deal of administration.

The noble Lady mentioned rural housing. I should like to bring to the notice of the House what has happened during the past five years in rural Wales. Local authorities have completed no fewer than 9,202 houses since 1st April, 1945, to September, 1950. Unfortunately, only 997 of them have been let to agricultural workers, which represents only 10.8 per cent. compared with 23 per cent. of rural houses which went to agricultural workers in England. I would also remind the noble Lady that from 1945 to September, 1950, there were over 11,000 houses erected by rural district councils and by private enterprise—that is to say, 11,000 in just short of five years. But from 1919 until the end of the last war, only 45,000 houses were built. So that house building has been speedier in the last' five years, in spite of what the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) said, than ever it was when the Conservative Party were in office between the wars.

Reference was also made to the labour question. Although there has been a loss of labour, which we profoundly regret, not only from the countryside but also from the urban areas in Wales over a long period of time, the Council tell us the reason on page 25 of their Report, where they say: Periods of depression in agriculture coupled with low wages have caused the rural workers for several decades to seek employment elsewhere … They go on to say: … it is disturbing to find that in the present period of comparative prosperity in agricultural and industrial areas"— prosperity due to the actions of this Government— the migration still continues. The figures are as follow. In 1939, when agriculture was still a depressed industry, there were 36,648 regular agricultural workers. In 1950, despite the loss of labour from the countryside, there were 737,692 regular agricultural workers. So that between 1939 and 1950 there has been an increase in regular and casual labour.

Reference was made to water schemes which are of incalculable social value, and I think the Government have done whatever was humanly possible to help the Welsh people to help themselves in this direction. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, made some reference to electricity, but I could not understand his figures. Actually since the war, when according to the hon. Member, activities in this direction have virtually stopped, there has been more activity than ever there was before the war. From the end of 1945 to 31st December last, 2,400 farms in Wales have been connected with electricity, making a total of about 5,750 farms. In other words, in five years 2,400 farms have been linked up, and throughout the whole of the time preceding those five years 3,350 had been linked up. What the hon. Gentleman means by his figures I do not know. He certainly could not have strayed further from the truth.

The hon. Member for Flint, West (Mr. Birch) said that the Council were doing a good job, and I entirely agree. They merit the appreciation of hon. Members in all parts of the House. Not only are they investigating problems and making recommendations, but, as far as humanly possible, this Government is carrying out those recommendations, and I hope will continue to do so. The hon. Member also asked if we could speed up schemes under the Livestock Rearing Act. I hope that as a result of our experience under the Hill Farming Act we shall be able to speed up the procedure so that we can start to improve the production of meat in this country as early as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), alluding to the Council and its powers, referred to paragraph 180 of the Report. I understand that my right hon. Friend the former Lord President of the Council had already undertaken to meet a deputation of the Council immediately after the Easter Recess. I gather that the Lord Privy Seal will undertake that obligation. We shall perhaps get a bit nearer to the Council and ascertain exactly what they want, for it is difficult for me, and it must be difficult for other hon. Members, to know exactly what paragraph 180 means.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said that houses were not being built as rapidly as they ought to be in rural Wales because of lack of licences. That certainly cannot be true if my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) spoke the truth earlier this afternoon. The hon. Member called upon the Government to exercise their default powers where local authorities are not doing their duty. The former Minister of Health said on more than one occasion that all building labour in rural Wales is actually working full time and in many cases overtime. It is not a question of licences, and I hope the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West will not tell that story again.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, also wanted to know why we did not delegate executive power to county agricultural executive committees where schemes under the Hill Farming Act are concerned. Surely if the hon. Member had made any inquiries he would have known that we have actually delegated that power. It is the county agricultural executive committees who advise and guide the farmers and who try to expedite the schemes. I can assure the hon. Member that the county agricultural executive committees are as anxious as he and I that those schemes should be expedited as much as possible.

The hon. Member also referred to farmers, and I can assure him that we are as fair and sympathetic to Welsh farmers as we are to those in England or in any other part of the British Isles. He can take it from me that if we were not the Welsh farmers would very soon tell us about it. He made a suggestion about wool, and said that if we did something about wool everything would be merry and bright. The hon. Member has not been in this House long enough to know all the agricultural Measures which have been passed through this House during the last 30 or 40 years. What he wants us to do is to go back to the old days when there were instability and fluctuations and nobody knew where they were, which is the real reason for the loss of manpower in rural Wales.

I have detained the House a few minutes longer than I intended, but I must reply to the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris). He referred to the Towy Valley scheme —[An HON. MEMBER: "It was the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West."] In that case, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, is more guilty than I thought. If he cares to look at page 44, paragraph 166, he will find that afforestation has not been to the detriment of Wales. These figures are given in the Report, which he must have read: Taking seven different areas and starting with 1926, the number of persons employed by the Forestry Commission on the first date was 130, and on the second date, which is not many years later, it had increased to 378. So the Forestry Commission have actually been taking spending power to Wales, which is what Wales requires more than all else if Welsh rural areas are to be rehabilitated.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

The right hon. Gentleman has indicated that I referred to the Towy Valley. I did not refer to the Towy Valley Scheme, but there arises on that matter the important question of a public inquiry. Will the right hon. Gentleman order that officials of his Ministry shall give evidence before it?

Mr. Williams

Certainly not, since that is utterly contrary to all tradition, in accordance with which inspectors conduct inquiries to ascertain what are the local objections. The hon. Member knows that, compared with one inquiry instituted by the Forestry Commission, the Minister of Health formerly had, or the Minister of Local Government and Planning will now have, to order one, two or even three such inquiries. No one knows better than the hon. and learned Gentleman that those inquiries are the occasion for the inspector to listen to local objections, and that the inspector reports to the appropriate Department, which has to take the ultimate decision.

Mr. Hopkin Morris

That is not what I am asking. The right hon. Gentleman has power to order his officials to appear. Does he really think that it is any sort of justice that half the evidence should not be presented before an inquiry that is said to be public?

Mr. Williams

Again, the hon. and learned Member knows as well as I do that Parliament is the ultimate defence for the objectors; that it must be and has been so, long before I came to this House. Until the general law relating to inquiries is amended, I am not prepared to send witnesses either to Carmarthen or indeed anywhere else.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

On a point of order. I understand that the House is now about to proceed to other business. An important Motion is before the House, namely, that it takes note of the Memorandum of the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire. As a great number of Members representing Welsh constituencies have not had the opportunity of speaking, would you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, accept a Motion "That the debate be now adjourned," in order to enable the House to consider the matter again before taking note of the Memorandum?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I have some difficulty about accepting that Motion. I agree, however, that there has not been the length of time available that might normally have been the case. In those circumstances, I will accept the Motion.

Mr. Emrys Roberts

I beg to move, "That the debate be now adjourned."

Mr. Donnelly (Pembroke)

I beg to second the Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.