Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House takes note of the Mid-Wales Investigation Report of the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission.—[Mr. Amory.]
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
I feel that I should begin by congratulating the authors of the Mid-Wales Investigation Report upon the excellent work that they have done. Whatever we may think about their conclusions and recommendations, I think the House will agree that the Report is a document notable for its thoroughness, lucidity, and, above all, frankness.
The task which confronted this panel of distinguished Welsh agriculturists was no easy one. They were asked to investigate and report upon economic conditions in the rural area of Mid-Wales, 1334 which bristles with human and industrial difficulties. The facts and figures presented in this document constitute a grim and urgent challenge not only to those of us who have the welfare of Welsh agriculture at heart, but also to everyone who is concerned about the very survival of Wales as a nation. It is from areas such as this that our people have always derived not only material sustenance, but also much spiritual and cultural strength. I very much hope that the House will bear with me if I have more to say about that aspect of the problem before I conclude my speech.
What is the picture which the Report presents to us? I do not want to over-paint it, but it is certainly one of a struggling and declining economy; of rapid depopulation and extensive emigration, especially by the youngest and most virile; of deserted farmsteads, frustrated local government and wretchedly inadequate amenities. The pace of depopulation, which is the heart of the problem, is best illustrated in Appendix L of the Report. This shows how the number of those gainfully employed in the three counties of Cardigan, Montgomery and Radnor has declined from 34,773 in 1901 to 23,235 in 1951, which is a drop of nearly one-third. That depopulation is still proceeding.
Furthermore, it cannot be said that the survivors of this massive exodus enjoy a standard of life which is much more than marginal in most cases. One could select almost at random from the pages of the Report startling evidence to prove this point. For instance, we learn that of the 1,404 holdings investigated by the panel, 570, which is well over one-third, have no tractor, and as many as 838—or eight out of every 14—actually have no form of motorised transport whatsoever. Again, of these 1,400 holdings nearly 1,200 are without electricity. In this vast area, in the very heart of Wales, electricity is a rarity. Perhaps most serious of all is the fact that, in spite of the area's abundant rainfall, seven out of 10 of these holdings have no piped water supplies, and we are told of some holdings which actually get their water by gathering rainwater in tubs.
I spoke of the marginal character of these holdings, and there is striking proof of that in Appendix O, which is supported by data provided by the Department of 1335 Agricultural Economics of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. The key studies produced by the Department show that in almost every case, whether the holding is small, medium or large, there is what is known as an enterprise loss in its running. It is only by disregarding any payment or remuneration to the farmer and his family—and almost all these are family farms—that the vast majority can be deemed to be viable.
We must ask why this state of affairs should exist over such a large and significant area of the Principality. Some of the answers spring to mind at once—this matter has been discussed for generations—but some of the more obvious answers must be examined very cautiously and, perhaps, qualified. One answer advanced, often in far too facile and specious a manner, is that many of these farms are too small to be economic, and that the solution is to amalgamate them ruthlessly.
It is, of course, true that the enlargement and amalgamation of holdings could, and should, proceed in some cases, but it would be highly dangerous to assume that that would be the right policy in all cases. Even the Report, which shows a certain dogmatism in favour of amalgamation, does not, to quote its own words,envisage a uniform pattern of large unitsthroughout the area. All the county councils, the farmers' unions and the leaders of young farmers' clubs—who, incidentally, are doing a magnificent job of work in the area in the teeth of very serious difficulties—as well as many individual agriculturists, are agreed in refuting the Report's suggestion, for instance, that no hill farm in this region can hope to be economic unless it sustains about 500 ewes or an equivalent number of stock. That is the kind of suggestion that we find in the Report, a tendency all the time to come down in favour of the large unit.
The fact is that the case for the large unit, except in specific instances, still remains to be proved. Even where amalgamation can clearly be shown to be the solution, it should not be brought about by compulsion. There is in the Report far too much argument in favour of something like compulsion. Most certainly, it should not be brought about by a manipulation of grant schemes, which I very 1336 much regret to see proposed in the Report.
As I have said, these are family farms and in many cases they have been handed down from generation to generation. Anything like compulsory amalgamation or dictation through rationalisation grants would be an affront to human rights as well as a real danger to production. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that there are positive arguments for the retention of some small farms in such areas as these. Where else but on a comparatively small farm can the young farmer or farm worker with little or no capital hope to make a start, especially in these days when, as the Report reminds us, the capitalisation of even a medium to small farm may be anything between £8,000 and £11,000? These small farms have often proved to be valuable training grounds for some of our best farmers and there is also a substantial case to be made for part-time holdings in some parts of an area of this type.
It is a major criticism of this excellent Report that it places undue emphasis on size—acreage—as a factor in the success or failure of holdings. There are other factors, some of them just as important as, and even more important than, the factor of size and it may be that in considering these other factors we may well be proposing the real solutions, or some of them, to the agricultural problems of the area.
The first factor with which I should like to deal is that of amenities. Proper roads and access roads, piped water, electricity, decent housing and farm buildings, not to mention telephones and telephone kiosks, which are vital to the economy of an agricultural area, are not only amenities: they are in every sense of the word industrial facilities. Where would our urban industry be without them? What kind of industrial efficiency and productivity would we have in our towns if they had had to make do with amenities and facilities which the countryside and agriculture have to put up with? The point is a valid one.
That brings me to my first suggestion. There is statutory and administrative machinery which, if it were used boldly and with imagination, could do very much indeed to further the extension and strengthening of the amenities I have mentioned in an area like this. Consider, 1337 for instance, the administration of the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act. At present, the small farmer is asked to present a comprehensive scheme and as such the scheme is frequently beyond his means.
This question was raised in the last debate on Welsh affairs. Has anything been done to enable smallholders to present their proposals piecemeal so that they can have a real chance of earning the grant? Many of these small farmers have difficulty in finding their own 50 per cent. of the necessary cost of even small schemes.
In page 30 of the Report it is stated that schemes estimated to cost about £¾ million—£721,430—have been approved in this area under those two Acts, but that so far work costing only about £¼ million—£234,982—has been completed and claimed for. Only one-third of the number of the entire approved global schemes has been completed. The reason is clear: many of the farmers cannot find a qualifying contribution in one lump sum. Is it not time that we considered letting these smallholders finance their part of the cost of such schemes by loan? I should like to hear what the Minister has to say on this.
Thirdly, could not the Ministry give a stronger lead in encouraging schemes which entail the use of prefabricated buildings? There is an undue tendency to continue along traditional lines when buildings of a prefabricated character, much cheaper, very serviceable and durable, would do equally well.
Then there is the question of the types of farm. I agree that there is room for variation of the types of farming in the area, and, indeed, throughout Wales, but in the Report there is the persistent suggestion that the dairy farmers of the area should change over to stock raising, without facing the real difficulties which lie in the way of the farmers being able to do that.
There may or may not be over-production of milk but the fact is that the dairy farmer, in this kind of area at least, dare not change over. Milk is his one certain source of constant revenue, and before we can reasonably hope that he will vary his policy we must try to provide something like the same inducement for meat and poultry as we have provided for milk.
1338 All this links up naturally with the question of research and advisory facilities, and I wish that the Report had said much more under this heading. Some hon. Members are familiar with a striking memorandum which has been sent to some of us, and, I think, has reached the Minister, framed by the Director of Education for Montgomery, Mr. Glynn Davies, which shows how pitifully neglected is the whole of Wales, and particularly this part of Wales, in the matter of research.
Research and advisory services of a greatly expanded nature are vital in the matter of animal health. Without them, we cannot look forward to that growing variation in the type of farming which these smallholders carry on. There is need, I should say, for an experimental hill farm in Central Wales to promote research and expand advice in this and related subjects, and, certainly, the veterinary service in this area ought to be greatly improved.
I hope that the Minister will have something to say about the progress made in improving access roads under the 1955 Act. The reports are that the implementation of this very useful Act needs to be speeded up. It may be early to challenge the Minister on this point, but it does not seem to me, and to the other hon. Members to whom I have spoken about it, that there is a sense of urgency at the highest levels about speeding up the preparation and presentation of schemes and going on to their approval and final implementation. Has the Minister given any consideration, in the light of this Report, to further assistance to these local authorities to promote water schemes? Is he in touch with the electricity authorities to see whether they can still further speed up rural electrification?
I pass on to the question of afforestation. Agriculture is and must remain the premier industry of this area. There is no doubt about that, but it cannot alone solve the rural problems of underemployment and depopulation. There is, of course, no such thing as a purely agricultural area. No area ever subsisted solely on agriculture, and mid-Wales is no exception. Here, as elsewhere, there used to be substantial opportunities of employment in rural crafts and in quarrying. The Report tells how these flourished at one time and finally declined.
§ Mr. G. Roberts
Yes, and lead mining, as my right hon. Friend reminds me, in Cardigan and in North Wales.
One reason for the general decline in the area is undoubtedly the disappearance of these rural industries during the past 50 years, and the fact that substitutes for them have been slow in reaching the countryside or have not gone there at all. Mid-Wales and North Wales must have not only a strengthened agriculture, but quite new rural industries if depopulation is to be arrested, the standards of local government are to be raised and local life is to be improved.
It is at least doubtful whether the rural industries which used to exist in this area, like quarrying, mining and some textiles, will ever return there, but there is, possibly, in areas like these another industry, and a fairly new industry, which is wholly indigenous to the area. It is that of forestry, and already forestry does present a fairly prominent element in the life and economy of mid-Wales. I welcome afforestation. I think it can make a substantial and healthy contribution to the economy of our countryside, but, having said that, I am bound to make some important qualifications.
The first is that afforestation, if it is to succeed and be a blessing, must proceed in partnership with agriculture. In the past, unfortunately, and, I fear, even in the recent past in Wales, demands for land for forestry have been made with an arrogance which has now finally alienated the farmers from the foresters. That is a tragic thing to happen, because the alliance and industrial partnership between the forester and the smallholder is something which, when it does happen, is a source of very great strength to our country districts. Things are a little better now, and I should like to pay tribute to the efforts of the present Director of Forestry in Wales, who, I think, understands the psychology of the people and has tried to direct his policy in such a way that he obtains good will and co-operation of the farming community.
Forestry will certainly assist in the revival of the economy of this area, but there are conditions. First, it must be a partnership with agriculture. The farmer, for instance, must himself be 1340 encouraged to plant shelter belts. There is far too little of that. The farmer's suspicion of the Commission is inhibiting him from proposing or even welcoming schemes which could be of direct advantage to him. He should also be encouraged to regard timber as a crop—a long-term crop—and maybe we would have to fashion a scheme of financial support, something like an acreage payment or loan scheme, into which I have not the time, and, indeed, would not care, to go this afternoon. The point remains that trees should be regarded as one of the crops which farmers in this kind of country should naturally think about; and they should be given every assistance and advice by the Forestry Commission itself.
Secondly, the Commission must really make the effort to find and take land which is not of very important agricultural value. The Commission is doing that to some extent now, and in urging the point I want to congratulate that body upon understanding the need for doing so.
Thirdly, there should be periodic surveys of land held by the Commission in order to see whether, in fact, it is being used for planting, or whether it is simply being held, fenced in, year after year. I was told yesterday of an extraordinary case, I think in Cardiganshire, in which the Commission had taken over 500 acres of land, and had let the lowland to a farmer, as is the practice, planted a belt on the intermediate slopes, but had not planted it all. There has been, I think for 10 years, a kind of secondary belt which is not planted, and which has no prospect of being planted, and which could very well have been allowed to remain as the summer grazing of the farmer from whom the land was taken. A periodic survey to see that Commission land is really being used and is not taken from the farmers and not planted, is necessary. Many farmers have had to yield so much land that they now have no summer grazing. When land is taken, let that need be fully borne in mind.
Finally, if forestry is to make a substantial contribution to rural areas of the type we are considering, it must develop its own ancillary processing industries somewhere near the point of growth. At present, this is not the case. In Wales, 1341 we are literally hewers of wood, so far as forestry is concerned. Once the timber has been grown it is carted away vast distances over the border, where the processes of manufacture are done. Recently, we were told of the action by Messrs. Bowater, the paper makers, in expanding very greatly their paper-making plant in Ellesmere Port. Representations were made at the time for the erection of paper-making plant in central Wales near the forests from which the timber for Ellesmere Port is drawn. That sort of thing ought to be looked at very carefully so that afforestation in Wales is followed through to the finished article.
At present, forestry does not employ a very large number of people. It takes a very long time to employ any considerable number. The way in which it can make an impact upon under-employment in the countryside and assist in arresting that operation is for planting to be followed in central and North Wales by some of those processes which lead to the finished article.
The subject of the debate may be essentially economic, but the implications are much wider. The right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) has many times, since I have been a Member of this House and, I know, before, drawn the serious attention of the House to the social and cultural consequences of this economic decline in central Wales. I second his efforts once more this afternoon. The area which we are discussing is literally and physically the heart of a nation. It stands between two fairly densely-populated parts of Wales, the North and the South, but because of its economic depression, its sparseness of population and its poor communications it is almost a barrier of silence between North and South Wales.
This has led sometimes to unfortunate results in our history. This area should not be a chasm but a link between Gwynedd and Gwent, so that a new and fruitful unity could be forged among all the people of the Principality. I hope that the Minister will grasp the full purport of this Report and will assure us that energetic action will be taken to rehabilitate this beautiful region, so that its fine people may strengthen the culture and economy not only of Wales, but possibly of the British Isles and the British Commonwealth.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Mr. David Llewellyn (Cardiff, North)
Though I represent a city the freedom of which is soon to be conferred on the Minister for Welsh Affairs, to the delight of us all, my roots are in Carmarthen and the hill farms of the Rhondda and of Brecon, so I feel entitled to make a short speech on this occasion. Since it must be short, I cannot follow all the arguments of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) in his most interesting speech.
I would, however, say a word about the pattern of ownership, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I was surprised to find there is such a high proportion of owner-occupiers in this area, and that it is 60 per cent. now as against 43 per cent. in the early 1940s. Though paragraph 69 of the Report paysthe passing tribute of a sighto the old landlord-tenant system at its best, this extension of freehold is a welcome development which we, on this side of the House, can regard as an extension of the property-owning democracy in which we believe, and which is in direct conflict with the views of the supporters of land nationalisation.
This diffusion of freehold lies at the root of the Committee's recommendation thatany attempt at regimentation would be fatal.The most damaging kind of regimentation to which Welsh farmers have been subjected has been as a result of uncoordinated demands on Welsh land by local authorities, nationalised industries, Government Departments and others. I was very glad that the hon. Member for Caernarvon referred to the effect of the Towey Valley afforestation scheme. "Arrogance" was the word he used about the handling of the scheme. It was heartily deserved. I am sorry, with him, that the dark shadow of that arrogance persists.
To imply, as seems to be implied, in paragraph (e) in page 46 of the Report, that farmers are prejudiced, overlooks altogether the very real ground for that prejudice. To produce a happier future the Forestry Commission will have to proceed more kindly and cautiously than in the past. As the then Minister for Welsh 1343 Affairs said in the House on 2nd February, 1954:I want compulsory purchase to be eschewed and afforestation to be fitted in with agriculture and not competing with or overwhelming it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1954; Vol. 523, c. 315.]Even the Report that we are discussing today, by Welshmen, shows that in common with the Forestry Commission, at any rate at that time, its authors cannot see the men for the trees. Paragraph 80 contains an alarming statement about labour. It says:Although families are not as large as they were some years ago, the small family farm is fortunately placed when sons and daughters leave school; usually, the resources of the holding do not permit the members of the occupier's family to be allowed the full wage of an agricultural worker and the labour is therefore not economically employed in such cases. Unless a son or daughter is prepared to sacrifice prospects of an independent life, the basic labour difficulties of the small family farm assert themselves sooner or later when sons and daughters marry or seek paid employment away from the farm.That argument seems wholly fallacious on two broad grounds. The sons or daughters of the farm who choose to work on that farm are independent. They know that they can get more money if they join others who have gone into industry and away from home, and that they can certainly get much more money by going to work in a Scottish boarding house in Rhyl in the season. They know they can get more money if they join the Cockneys among the conifers, or whoever may be engaged on that particular work. They prefer work on the farm to getting more money outside. It is a false assumption that a farmer's labour is uneconomically employed because he chooses to work for less than he would get elsewhere, or because his holding happens to be smaller than in theory it ought to be.
Here again, I agree that any prejudice against the smallholding is bad. To argue on those lines, or to reproach the small man because his holding is not as large as it ought to be on paper, ignores altogether the spiritual value of the work of the Welsh farmer on his own land, which he and his family may have worked for generations. It is a false assumption to make that he would work equally hard or better elsewhere.
It is not only the memory of the Towey Valley scheme which threatens the 1344 security of the Welsh farmer. If that were all there would be little enough to contend with. Competition seems to be ever-increasing for Welsh land. When, for example, the War Office took over Sennybridge—and here I voice the opinion of hon. Members in all parts of the House when I express regret for the reason for the absence of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) today; I do not think that any hon. Member has given closer study or more care to these questions—its effects were widespread.
I do not want to quote anyone in vain, but my recollection is that on a visit to Breconshire, some years ago, an authoritative person told me that as a result of the Sennybridge Range coming into being three-quarters of the farmers who were displaced have been lost altogether to agriculture. That not only affected them, but is likely to affect their children, also. I am not arguing whether that decision was right or wrong, but I am pointing out part of the price which had to be paid for it.
What I think is particularly galling on many occasions when land is taken is the fact that the best site is by no means invariably chosen. If I may take one instance from the south, we have recently seen the tragedy of the leys on the Glamorganshire coast. We have little enough coast of our own. It is constantly shrinking while the leisure of the population increases; and it is sad that more of the coastline should be taken over by the Central Electricity Authority for a power station.
That scheme is already draining workers from the land in Glamorganshire and, as it develops and there are ancillary developments, that drain will increase. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that within 20 to 30 years the Vale of Glamorgan will not enjoy the esteem which it enjoys today as a great agricultural vale.
That has been allowed notwithstanding the fact that there was a perfectly good site at Margam then available. It would have been more costly to use that, but as a result of choosing a perfectly good stretch of the Glamorganshire coast—destroying the village of Gileston in the process and draining existing agricultural labour from Glamorgan—a much better site from the point of view of agriculture 1345 was taken and a site better from almost every other point of view was not taken.
I am not very familiar with what has been happening in North Wales. The hon. Member for Caernarvon referred to the gap there is between North and South Wales. I am not sure about the developments which are constantly changing in the requirements of Liverpool Corporation for water. It appears to me that there there is no planning at all, but a parody of planning. This is how it is seen from the South and hon. Members from the North can correct me if I am wrong.
It seems that Liverpool Corporation is playing a game of municipal tiddly-winks in its search for water. It flicks a counter into one valley and then into another and there is no guarantee that the counter will eventually fall into the right or the best place. Only a handful of people would wish to deprive Liverpool of the water she needs, but under the present system it seems that there is no guarantee whatsoever that the reservoir will be made where it would cause least damage to agriculture.
All these unco-ordinated demands more than anything else threaten to depopulate the Welsh countryside. Even if every farm had its water tap, its electric light, its proper road and all the other amenities to which the hon. Member for Caernarvon referred, there would still be no guarantee that in 10 or 20 years' time it would have a farmer, unless the present trend is reversed.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. G. R. H. Nugent)
I think it might be of some assistance to the House to say a few words early in the debate from the point of view of the Government about this very important subject. I should like to begin by welcoming the tone and the material with which the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) opened the debate. That helps us to look at this very difficult problem in an objective way.
I can well understand the deep feeling that this subject would arouse in the hearts of any Welshman, because I can feel myself—coming from a district which is very far from Wales—what a moving and difficult problem it is. Therefore, I welcome all the more the restraint with 1346 which the matter was presented. If my intervention was delayed slightly I had the benefit of hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Llewellyn) taking us for a little tour round the coast of Glamorgan. That has improved my knowledge of the geography of the Principality.
We on the Government side of the House welcome this debate today. We feel it gives us an opportunity to hear from all sides of the House the views of Members of Parliament from Wales about this very important subject in general and this valuable Report in particular.
In the eight months since the presentation of the Report we have been giving most careful study to this serious and complex problem and time has not been wasted. The Report opens up all kinds of new ideas and throws a fresh light on old problems. It is the intention of my right hon. Friend to publish later this month a White Paper setting out the views of the Government on the whole subject. Before reaching final conclusions as to what should be done we felt, and I feel personally, very much the weight of the remarks made by my noble Friend the present Lord Chancellor, when he was Minister for Welsh Affairs. My noble Friend said that any permanent worthwhile solution of problems of agricultural organisation in this area would call for co-operation, leadership, energy and foresight amongst individual Welshmen.
Everyone would agree with that. It is not simply a technical solution which is needed; we must achieve a solution which will command that degree of co-operation from all leading Welshmen and, in particular, from all Welsh Members of Parliament from all sides of the House. So, in the concluding stages of preparing this White Paper, my right hon. Friend will now have the benefit of the views expressed this afternoon in this debate and they will be of very great help to us.
It may be of some assistance to the House if I express a few general views on some of the subjects raised in the Report and give our comments on them. First, I should like to say again—I was glad that it was said from both sides of the House—what an excellent Report it is. It is most readable, extraordinarily well put together, the analyses are quite fascinating and it gives a picture which everyone can understand. Whether all its conclusions are entirely to be agreed by 1347 everybody is another matter. One would not expect that, but it presents the picture with great clarity and it has been of very great help to us.
I should like to say straight away that we in the Government are second to none in recognising the fine traditional character of those who dwell in these Welsh uplands. We certainly wish to do everything in our power to help to maintain it. I suppose that all Governments have recognised the virtues of the small farmer. From time immemorial, Governments have striven to preserve him. Not only does he provide the nation's food; he is also a stable character who has the virtues of independence, industry and enterprise. He is a firm base for the whole social structure. The small farmer in the Welsh uplands has those civic virtues par excellence.
The small farmer in the Welsh uplands is tested to the utmost to get his living in those circumstances. I think it is worth saying a word about what it is that makes the fine character that one finds there. It is, of course, the spur of necessity, not only the necessity of earning a living but the necessity of looking after livestock and crops in extremely hard and difficult circumstances. Naturally, the farmer is concerned to make his living out of it, but he is moved, as every farmer is, before thoughts of making his living, by the absolute necessity to look after livestock which is in his care.
In those conditions, where hardship and exposure are so commonly the farmer's lot, it is a real test of character for a man constantly to be putting the welfare of his livestock before his own personal convenience and comfort. But he does it, and, in doing it, his strong, fine character is developed. It is essential that we should maintain this virtue.
The character that we want to maintain is brought about by the interplay of hard conditions on naturally stout-hearted people. We shall continue to get that kind of stout-hearted, energetic person going into those farms only if the prospect there is attractive enough economically. As the hon. Member for Caernarvon has observed, the analysis in the Report shows—it is all too depressing—what a small number of young people there are in the farms.
1348 Consequently, we take the view that it is basic to the strengthening of the area that the economic prospect on the farms should be improved. It is a matter of balance how one achieves that with the improvement of public services. It is clear, however, that simply to improve public services, simply to increase the amount of public support which goes to the assistance of these men, would, in the long run, defeat its own purpose, because, far from increasing the independence and self-respect of the men, it would gradually erode it by increasing their dependence on the rest of the community.
Here is the same test that one must apply to all Government expenditure. It must be directed to trying to increase independence rather than the reverse. Therefore, we completely agree with the general approach in the Report that it is basic to increase the economic strength of the region.
On the controversial subject of amalgamations, I think that, in fairness to the Report, it would be right to call the attention of the House to the terms of reference of the Sub-Commission. I know that the hon. Member for Caernarvon knows them well, but, just to put them on the record, they were to advise on the best use of land in the area with special reference to types of farm, the pattern of ownership and occupation and cost of equipment, and to consider the suitability of some of the land for afforestation.
Therefore, it was natural that the Report should direct a great deal of attention to the technical farming aspects. I think that everyone agrees that it is a well-balanced Report, but, naturally, it has concentrated a great deal of attention on the technicalities.
Amalgamations are taking place. I think everybody accepts that a certain amount of amalgamation should take place and that the size of many farms can be increased with advantage. I believe that the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire does not dissent from that view. I believe that its anxiety is that it may go too far, with the result of depopulation. Our broad view is that it should be allowed to come about by a process of natural evolution and certainly not by any compulsory action by Governments.
When it made its Report, the Sub-Commission did not know that we intended to continue the Hill Farming Acts. 1349 As the House knows, my right hon. Friend will soon be asking Parliament for approval of an extension of five years, so that the comments about rationalisation in the Report will to that extent be irrelevant.
The approval of hill farming schemes has consistently been carried out in the spirit of the 1946 Act. That is to say, every application must survive the test of comprehensiveness; it must be a scheme which is comprehensive for the whole farm, so that when it is completed it will make the farm a sound economic unit. There has never been any difference in application of that principle, either in this part of Wales or in any other of the highlands of the country. We are not contemplating any change in that respect. The only improvement that we might make is to put a little more precision into the definition of what is comprehensive, for the assistance of those who are administering the region, but we certainly do not propose to change from the general spirit of the 1946 Act.
I think I might give some figures of the progress which has been made in Wales generally with these schemes. By March, 1956, schemes to the value of £10 million had been approved, which is about one-third of the total, and the rate of the schemes coming in has considerably improved in the last two or three years. Over the last three years grant has been paid on schemes to the value of about £1½ million, compared with about £500,000 in the previous five-year period.
It is true that the schemes take some time to complete. I fully agree with the point made by the hon. Member. It is to some extent, of course, to meet the convenience of individual farmers. We have not felt that a system of loans would be appropriate, but we have always been ready to phase the schemes to suit the conditions of individual farmers. They are often spread over three years to help the farmers with their side of the commitment. We shall continue to watch how they go. We consider that they are one of the most important aids that we can give to the area, and we certainly want farmers to be able to make full use of them.
The system of production grants, with which the House is familiar, is also helping farmers in the area a very great deal. 1350 In the Principality as a whole last year the production grants amounted to about £3⅔ million, again a considerable increase over earlier years. It is evident that these, especially the marginal production schemes, are helping. We have considerably increased the allowance for Wales, and that is a big help to many of the marginal farmers. I can assure the House that we have no intention of making differential schemes of production grants which might operate against uneconomic units.
Our view on the size of holdings conforms broadly with the view expressed by the Sub-Commission, in page 43 of the Report. There it says:We do not envisage a uniform pattern of large units. We consider that there should be a number of small holdings in favourable areas within reasonable reach of centres of community life, in order to diversify the agricultural economy and to provide farming opportunities for young people.The paragraph goes on in, I think, a felicitous fashion to observe the value of the part-time holdings as well as the smaller holdings. That is, broadly, our view. We quite accept that the farmer cannot start on a full-size large holding, and we also accept that there will be a valuable place here for the ancillary workers, forestry workers and others having part-time holdings of their own. We certainly do not look for the time when there will be nothing but large-sized holdings there.
On the general subject of public services, we certainly agree that the development of public services in this area is an urgent need and should go on just as fast as we can make it go. I am quite sure that the whole House, in reading the Report, will have accepted the point that it is quite impossible to take the public services everywhere in these upland regions. The limitation to that is graphically pointed out.
The three services together—roads, electricity and water—cost no less than £4,000 a mile, and it is quite evident that it will be impossible ever to take the services to every small holding in the upland regions. But we certainly want to go on with these services as fast as we can, and the result of the last few years is, I think, encouraging over the Principality as a whole, although in this area it has still far to go.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Is the hon. Gentleman more or less satisfied that progress has been favourable in the area under consideration this afternoon, or has it been pathetically slow?
§ Mr. Nugent
It has been slower than in the Principality as a whole, of course. The picture in Wales as a whole has been, I think, improving satisfactorily. The electricity picture is that by April, 1956, 40 per cent. of the farms had been connected in Wales, compared with 14 per cent. in 1948. That is a very satisfactory increase overall, and connections are going ahead at the rate, last year, of 2,500 per annum.
We certainly hope to make a considerable contribution in this area under the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act. As the House knows, the present economic circumstances prevent us sanctioning schemes yet, but the time has not been wasted. We have now settled the directive to go out to local authorities. That directive, I hope, will be going out in the course of the next week or two. We can get ahead with the preparation of schemes, and I believe that these schemes will be a very real help in some of these most difficult areas. As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), the figures in these hill areas are behind the average and we have still far to go, but we certainly wish to use every means within our power to improve the rate of progress.
On the question of co-operation with forestry, to which the hon. Member for Caernarvon referred, we entirely agree with his view that there must be the closest possible co-operation and co-ordination. Forestry has all the possibilities to which he referred. Not only does it make a direct intrinsic contribution of its own to the national economy, but it supplies what is so badly needed in these upland areas—a large secondary industry to strengthen the whole community socially and sociologically, and to give some indirect assistance to agriculture in part-time work mutually on either side.
It has, therefore, a most valuable part to play but, of course, for it to do that it is essential that there should be a spirit of confidence between the farming community and the forestry community. I was very glad to hear the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Caernarvon to our Welsh Director, and his comment that 1352 conditions were improving now and that there was a prospect that this relationship might improve even more. It is certainly our intention that it should. There are quite a number of specific measures that the Forestry Commission is anxious to take, and I think that with the publication of the White Paper we shall be able to state in detail the various measures that the Commission will take in order to meet the recommendations in the Report.
May I say in conclusion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that we certainly do not underestimate the difficulty of this problem. It is a most tough and difficult problem. We join with the hon. Gentleman in recognising that there is in this area a community of very great value, not only to Wales but to the whole nation. We are most anxious to do all we can to help to strengthen it. To farm at all in that area is a very tough and difficult job. To farm successfully in the Welsh mountains takes a very stout-hearted man, but the fact is that there are numbers of farmers who are doing it well. There are numbers of shining examples who are using modern techiques of farming, and they are making a good living for themselves and producing much valuable food for the community.
In other words, it can be done. That is a great encouragement to us to continue our advisory and research services on the technical level and to use all the other means we can to try to spread the admirable example that these men and women have set so that it will gradually permeate throughout the area. We do not underestimate the problem, but we are not despondent about it. We can see that there are Welsh men and women who are succeeding with what we wish to make general throughout the area. We believe that so long as we can maintain that spirit and that kind of person we shall eventually, with the co-operation of all, succeed in maintaining the strength of this very valuable part of the nation.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Roderic Bowen (Cardigan)
I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity of interventing in this debate, because approximately half of the area covered by this Report lies within the bounds of my own constituency. While we deeply appreciate the general air of benevolence manifested by the Joint 1353 Parliamentary Secretary, we certainly would have welcomed some more specific proposals in relation to this Report. All I can say is that I hope that the good will which he has manifested this afternoon will be translated into positive proposals in the White Paper, which we await with considerable interest.
I was glad that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary paid such a generous tribute to the type of person produced in this area—a fine type of Welsh character. The area has produced this type over the centuries. After all, this is as much a social as an agricultural problem. All the problems relating to the area have a social and an agricultural content and cannot be considered in isolation.
I remember hearing what happened on one occasion during a visit to the area by Lord Hudson when he was Minister of Agriculture. He was being taken round by the agricultural organiser, the late Mr. D. J. Morgan. In a particularly bleak part, the Minister pointed to some of the holdings and said, "What on earth can they produce in those places?" The answer which D. J. Morgan gave was, "Men." He went on to tell the Minister of the contributions made by the sons and daughters of those people not only to the cultural and religious life of the community in the immediate vicinity, but in a very much wider field indeed. I believe that the paramount thoughts which should be present in our minds in approaching any of these questions is that it is essential to try to keep a vigorous, healthy rural community in the area.
It seems to me that the Report raises at least three major points. It raises many others, but I want to touch upon three of them, and in doing so I should like to join wholeheartedly in thanking those responsible for the publication of this Report. Every paragraph in it is exceedingly interesting and stimulating, and I join wholeheartedly in the compliments which have been paid to it.
I feel that if one looked at this area from the point of view of the master planner, the answer to the problem would be State ownership of the whole area, compulsory purchase of all the holdings in the area by the State, and then the establishment of a system of ranching. I believe the Report uses the South American expression "estancia", that is to say, large State holdings and the type 1354 of farming which can best be called ranching. It may be that there are some economic arguments in favour of a proposal of that kind. I am very doubtful whether it would be economically sound. What I am certain of is that it would be socially disastrous, and I am particularly pleased that the Report condemns wholeheartedly that approach to the problem.
If that is not a solution, what is? This brings me to the three points to which I referred. There is, first, the problem of what I call the foothill farms. Then there is the problem of the upland farms, and then the overall social problem which affects the whole area, and, indeed, very many similar areas throughout Wales.
With regard to the foothill farms—those are referred to in the Report as farms situated mainly in the western plateau region—the basic problem raised is what is the attitude to be adopted with regard to milk production on these holdings. What is to happen about the continuance or otherwise of these farms as milk producing units? As to the upland farm area, which is largely in the central moorland region, it seems to me that the problem is one of increasing the level of sheep and cattle production, and reconciling the demands of agriculture and forestry. There is then the third problem of providing basic social amenities throughout the area.
I should like to say a few words about each of these aspects of the situation, dealing with the foothill farms first. I believe that we are in danger of considering this problem as if the whole of the area consisted of upland farms. I should like to present a proper perspective and give one or two figures. Roughly half the farms covered by this survey—approximately 700—are in my constituency, and half of those are concerned with livestock rearing. Over one-third are registered milk producers, and 70 per cent. of those registered milk producers possess T.T. licences. Therefore, it is quite wrong to think of these areas as vast expanses devoted entirely to sheep and forestry.
Five out of seven of those farms are owner-occupied. I have not the figures for milk-producing farms—I do not think they are given in the Report—but I would say that the figure for owner-occupied milk-producing farms is higher than it 1355 is overall. That means that for practical purposes, all the milk-producing farms are owned-occupied and are family farmed.
From the point of view of population, production and capital, in terms either of £ s. d. or social capital, those milk producers certainly represent over half the problem. Numerically they are one-third of the farms, as compared with one-half of the farms concerned only with livestock rearing. The difficulties in this area, therefore, cannot be solved unless we face the problem in relation to those milk producers.
Incidentally, the figures reveal a population of from 4,500 to 5,000 cows in the area within the boundary of Cardiganshire. It is said that the farmers in that area should not be engaged in milk production at all, as the conditions are not suitable. But one thing is quite clear. The only reason why these farmers are now earning a living through milk production is that it is the only way at present whereby they can possibly maintain a minimum standard of living. Bearing in mind the size of the unit involved, it would be quite uneconomical for them to switch to livestock rearing.
The economic factors and, indeed, Government encouragement on a substantial scale during the last 10 years have led to these farmers taking up milk production for their livelihood. I do not think there can be any dispute that during the last 10 to 15 years they have made substantial strides in that sphere. The level of production has increased. The standard of the cattle and of the equipment which they have acquired has increased. The question is whether these people are going to be left high and dry. It is not a question of saying that they should go in for livestock rearing. The plain fact is that, in view of the size of these units, they would not get anything like a living from switching to livestock rearing.
Milk is their sheet anchor. It is their most valuable market and its organisation is efficient. If anyone doubts that, I would remind him that the first large milk depôt in Cardiganshire and in that part of the West was established within this area at Pont Llanio and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department and Welsh 1356 Affairs, only a few weeks ago, opened what is claimed to be the largest milk depôt in Europe, which is on the fringes of this area at Felinfarth. I think, therefore, that it is vitally important that these farms should be kept in milk production and steps should be taken to see that they have prospects of a decent standard of living from these holdings. If we are not to invoke compulsory powers to force these farms to join together and take up livestock rearing, there is no alternative but to help them through the medium of their existing practices.
I noticed in the agricultural supplement of The Times of yesterday a statement by Mr. Llefelys Davies, who is immediately concerned with this section of the agricultural industry, to the effect that the Government could help most by making the conditions of small farms conducive to efficiency in production. I think that a major contribution to helping this area and many others could be made by trying to help these small milk-producing farmers to produce more efficiently. I believe that farmers in this category could well be included in the group which benefit under the Livestock Rearing Act. They need assistance to bring their buildings and equipment up to date, and they need, in many cases, better supply roads and electricity.
One-third in numbers, but at least half from every other point of view, of those farming in this area would be materially helped if assistance were given to the small dairy farmer in the area by helping him to produce his milk more efficiently. I believe that the most effective way of doing that would be to have some form of extension of the Livestock Rearing Act so as to embrace his operations.
That would be of considerable help in two directions. It would retain those people in agriculture, because the farmer who is now the milk producer in these areas is in the position that, if he cannot make a living out of milk production, he will tend to desert the industry. The other factor is this. To my mind, these holdings provide one of the finest opportunities for recruitment into the industry. Goodness knows, it is difficult enough now for a young farmworker to become a farmer. I do not know of any time when it was more difficult for a young man to become a farmer than at the present moment.
1357 There is one paragraph in the Report to which I took strong exception. I was glad that the Parliamentary Secretary gave some reassurance with regard to it. In paragraph J, page 48, there is a sentence which reads:We therefore feel that the administration of the existing grants and subsidies needs to be reviewed so that wherever possible they will be directed towards bringing about the type of reorganisation recommended in this Report.Nothing, I think, would be more reprehensible than for the people who have the responsibility for administering these grants and subsidies to administer them in such a way as to force amalgamation. I think that, of the two alternatives, it would be almost better to invoke compulsory powers than to follow the insidious way of refusing grants and subsidies, thereby using economic force to bring about the same result. I hope that when the White Paper is published, it will be made quite clear that the Government have no intention of refusing applications under the Hill Farming Act or the Livestock Rearing Act, with a view to bringing about amalgamation which they dare not bring about by compulsory powers.
A great deal has been said in the Report and by hon. Members in regard to the size of agricultural units. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) as to the over-emphasis on size. I also agree that many of these smallholdings are farmed today by part-time workers. Many smallholdings are held by postmen, forestry workers and people in that category. I think that by operating in that way they are contributing substantially to their own and to the general welfare of the country.
So far as the upland or central moorland areas as a whole are concerned, this is the present position. Already a substantial extent of those areas consists of large farms. It is not a problem of amalgamation in those areas. We have extensive farms there already engaged very largely in sheep and cattle production. I should like to see a speeding up of consideration of claims under the Hill Farming Act and the Livestock Rearing Act. A substantial amount has been done in this respect, but a great deal more could be done far more rapidly than is at present the case.
The basic problem in those areas is to achieve a proper balance between forestry and agriculture. I am glad to 1358 join with a number of hon. Members in saying that the Forestry Commission's behaviour is far better than it was in the past. It indulged in a case of "attempted breaking and entering" in my constituency of a very extensive character. It was put on probation, and it is still on probation. I am pleased to say that while on probation it is behaving reasonably well at the moment. But let us have no doubt of its standing in regard to the agricultural community involved in this Report. There is no reason, given good will on both sides, why there should not be a very large measure of co-operation between those two sides, but it needs, bearing in mind the past history of the Forestry Commission, a very human handling by it of the problems that arise.
The two points which I wish to make in this regard are these. It seems to me that one of the basic problems is the production of adequate shelter belts. Within this area there are large tracts of land which need shelter. The farmers need the shelter and the Forestry Commission need the land. One would have thought that there would have been some means of bringing these two claims together. It appears to me that the amount of shelter belt planning which can be done under the Hill Farming Act is far too small to meet this difficulty. It is not a question of small shelter belts for which grants can be had under the Hill Farming Act. It is not a question—and this is one of my main complaints against the Forestry Commission—of planting large forest blocks. I should like to see the Forestry Commission encourage farmers to give up portions of their land for the purpose of planting substantial shelter belts.
The best way to achieve that is by behaving in that fashion in relation to the farms they have acquired. They have acquired farm lands in this area. What I should like to see the Commission doing is planting substantial belts in that area, then letting the rest of the land as a holding. If it did that, it would encourage neighbouring farmers to give up reasonable amounts of their land for the construction of shelter belts; but instead of doing it, the Commission seems to be concentrating the whole, or at least a substantial part, of its attention on creating these large forest blocks, with all the 1359 difficulties for the farming community to which they give rise.
Another factor to which I wish to draw attention is the importance to agriculture of the Hendre and Hafod system of farming. Tribute is paid to that system in the Report, yet it has been flouted in the Gogerddan area in the last two years. It seems to me that if we are to get a full measure of good will between these two sides of the agricultural industry, all these points must be borne in mind.
Another matter, to which reference has already been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon, is the need to link forestry with the timber trade. A great deal of good will would be created if the Forestry Commission would throw in the whole of its weight in an attempt to attract to the area rural industries in which timber is the basic product used. It would lend considerable strength to its claim that forestry can really contribute towards arresting rural depopulation.
I am sorry to detain the House for so long, but, as hon. Members will appreciate, this Report affects my area far more than it does the area of any other Member. I believe that in these upland areas a great deal could be done by scientific research—a good deal has been done already—to increase the sheep population. A great deal more could be done in cattle rearing. I saw some figures quite recently showing that over a million dairy bred calves are born each year and not reared. It seems to me that these upland areas could rear large numbers of crossbred calves from dairy herds. In view of the anxiety as regards their level of milk production, one cannot expect these small dairy farms to do it, but I believe that if there were suitable cross-bred calves, large numbers of them could be reared in these upland areas, and contribute considerably towards beef production in the country as a whole.
When the claims of agriculture and forestry conflict, there seems to be no machinery whatever for resolving the differences. I will just quote, if I may, from what my own county council had to say in the matter quite recently:In our county"—that is to say, the County of Cardigan—some of the best sheep farms have been acquired for afforestation, contrary to the 1360 views of the Agricultural Executive Committee".It seems to me that there should be far more effective machinery for resolving this problem when it arises.
As regards social amenity, I would say that my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon has perhaps painted, if anything, too bleak a picture. I do not in any way challenge his motives in doing that, but, to my mind, most of these difficulties in regard to social amenities could be overcome if the speed with which they are being dealt with at the moment were accelerated. If one looks at the figures in the Report with regard to water supplies, electricity, roads and farm equipment, it is idle to talk about the position being hopeless. It is not hopeless. What is needed is a substantial acceleration in what is being done at the moment.
For example, in water supplies and electricity, if the present rate of improvement could be doubled, the benefits would be enormous. I see that the Parliamentary Secretary lifts his eyebrows at my suggestion. It would mean no more than bringing these areas into line with what is common form in England at the moment and common form throughout a large part of Wales. The difficulties would in great measure be eased if the Government would allow the present water supply schemes to go forward, and if they would allow the 1955 Act in relation to roads to be implemented, and if the Electricity Board accelerated its programme of rural electrification.
It is not a question of having new ideas or having some revolutionary programme, but of putting into action all the machinery which we have, and putting it into action with vigour and imagination. If the Government of the day are prepared to face these problems, there is no reason why this area should not continue to produce men of the calibre and character it has produced in the past, and there is no reason why it should not retain a healthy, vigorous population contributing to the social well-being of Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
In rising to speak to this Mid-Wales Investigation Report, in a maiden speech, I will 1361 confess my interest from the start, having been born and having spent most of my life in this particular part of Wales. I should like to claim, with modesty, that I know well most of the parishes referred to in the Report itself.
It is, as other hon. Members have said, an area of hill and marginal farms which have great economic problems. It is an area of great beauty. It is an area from which, in the north, the River Wye, rising on Plynlimon, flows southwards towards the Hereford Division which I am proud to represent, and which, for the last 25 years, has been represented so well by the noble Lord, Lord Cilcennin. The river is not the only link between the survey area and Hereford, because we know that for generations many Welsh farmers have found their way to the great markets of Hereford, and we know only too well that many of them have found the land rich enough to tempt them to remain in the lower parts of the Wye valley. It would be true to say also that the area near to the Black Mountain in Herefordshire is faced, to some degree, with the same problems as those which face the survey area.
May I now turn up the river, past the scene where the Welsh and English last fought in battle against one another—I know that most hon. Members here today will agree with me that that was a drawn battle—past also the place where the last Welsh prince, Prince Llewellyn, lost his life near Builth. Leaving on our right the mountain where Vortigern, King of the ancient Britons, was struck by a thunderbolt, I am now safely returned to the survey area again.
There was a Welsh poet who once said:The breath of freedom cometh from the hills.That freedom cometh today as ever, but it is on the economic aspects of this area that the investigation has taken place. The Report shows that the main income for the people in this area—if I may disregard for a moment the milk area which has already been referred to—comes largely from the sale of wool, store cattle and store sheep. The Report stresses the amount of benefit that this area has received from Government grants and subsidies. Various recommendations are made regarding the size of holdings and 1362 the fixed equipment on farms, and also about the integration of forestry with agriculture. I wish to confine myself to this very real problem which has grown up in Wales since the war by the coming of these great State forests to the Principality.
This is a revolution. In history we are used to revolutions being started by individuals and individual organisations against the State. In this case the process has been reversed. The peaceful penetration of State forests into this area, however much in the national interest, has brought with it revolutionary changes. One of the several maps in the Report shows that there are certain areas which are not considered economic for agricultural development and are suitable for forestry. That process may come, but let it be gradual. Above all, let the Government see that a fair price is paid to the occupier for the land according to what type and what quality of land it is.
On page 41 of the Report appears the following rather dry paragraph:The development of afforestation, properly integrated with agriculture, will strengthen the social and economic fabric of the countryside and assist materially in the rehabilitation of the upland areas.Many of us agree, but we feel that, if that development is to be successful, the Government must continue to understand the great human problems which exist. They must also remember that, until the coming of the Forestry Commission to these areas, sheep and their flock masters had undisputed supremacy in these areas.
New forests bring improved telephone and road communications and, as we have seen from the latest reports from Northumberland, they can also bring a great addition to the number of people living in these village communities. They can bring employment and prosperity, which has already been referred to. But where these forests come on to the sheep walks we find new problems, human problems and, sometimes, national problems. I think it very important to realise that the Forestry Commission is planting in Great Britain between 60,000 and 70,000 acres a year, and in Wales something between 10,000 and 12,000. That is a great deal, and therefore it is important that the Government should safeguard the interests of the sheep farmers; 1363 and the same arguments apply to the private owners. On page 46 of the Report, it states:Areas afforested should be fenced. Fences should continuously be maintained during the whole of the life of the trees.This is one of the points which I wish to make. At present we find that the Forestry Commission maintains its fences up to the thicket stage. But afterwards, when the forest is mature, we often find that neighbouring farmers lose a large number of sheep from maggot and other cause; and very often, even if the sheep are found, it is extremely difficult to identify ewe and lamb. This is a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I have myself been a member of the National Forestry Commission's Committee for Wales. I was a member until I became a Member of this House. I should like to take the opportunity of saying how much I appreciate the work being done by its officers and employees in the Principality. But the Forestry Commission will say that they are not bound by law to fence against other people's stock. That is absolutely true, as we all know. But is it not also true that the custom of the country, as practised by the best private woodland owners, is to fence against other people's stock, because they know that bad fences mean bad neighbours? And in Wales, and the West Country generally, to be a bad neighbour is something very bad indeed.
Some may not think that this maintenance of permanent fences is very important, but I should like to say that nothing better could be done to bridge the gulf between farmer and forester than this. It has been urged by the National Farmers' Union, by the Country Landowners' Association, and now it is urged in the Report made by these wise and respected men. If the future prosperity of areas such as this, and similar areas in England—indeed in my own Division of Hereford—lies in forestry and farming being integrated, as the Report says, then the development must receive the good will of the local people.
I hope that after due consideration of this Report the Government will take action on it; that they will not merely let it moulder in a pigeonhole in some Ministry, because I believe that the men 1364 who have so carefully prepared this Report, and the men and women who are the subject of it, deserve a very great deal better than that.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Idwal Jones (Wrexham)
I should like warmly to congratulate the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) on a most delightful speech, to which it has been a pleasure to listen. Like most hon. Members on this side who are present this afternoon, I was pleased to understand that the hon. Member came from the Principality. It was encouraging to hear that there is such a keen interest between Hereford and the Principality on this subject. I will not follow the hon. Member on the clashes between the English and Welsh on the Welsh and English border, although that is an absorbing subject. I am sure that the House will look forward to future contributions from the hon. Gentleman.
The Report we are discussing is concerned with a relatively small section of the Principality, but it is a most interesting section. I hasten to add my congratulations to those which have been given on the excellency of the Report. It is a production which will, no doubt, be the basis of a very satisfactory piece of action.
When I crossed mid-Wales for the first time, some time ago, I had a most distressing experience. I felt that I was passing through a part of Wales which was moribund. It is most disturbing to have such an experience. The reason for my feeling may have been due to geographical and economic reasons, the interplay and interaction of geographical and economic forces. But, even so, we should not allow this part of our land to slip through our fingers into dereliction. We should not permit ourselves to be defeated by either geographical or economic forces. Therefore, we should act not only quickly, but decisively. We should, as it were, carry on a blitzkrieg in this part of the Principality.
It may be said that this area will never enjoy that prosperity in agriculture of the standard achieved in the lowlands of England, or even in the broader valleys of Wales. But this is an interesting part of the Principality. Geographically, it is a plateau, a dissected plateau with an average altitude of 1,300 ft., reaching in parts to 1,700 ft. This is of importance 1365 in our discussion. This plateau is divided very deeply by rivers which run in different directions. There is the Ystwyth and Rheidol, running west, the Teifi and the Towy, running south, the Wye and the Ithon, running south-east, the Teme, running eastwards, and the Severn, going in a north-easterly direction. This is a most interesting geographical fact which will have its bearing on my argument today.
Another interesting feature is that in no part of this area do we find rivers with broad valleys. They are in their upper reaches where, essentially, the valleys are narrow. Consequently, the region has its own peculiar problem from the point of view of farming. The outstanding fact is that the economy of the area is running down and there is very marked rural depopulation. Rural depopulation has its depressing effect upon the agricultural industry and, as a result, we have a vicious circle. It is this vicious circle which the Report seeks to break, It is an excellent, factual Report which presents a basis for good work for the future.
At the same time, we must face one fundamental fact. British farming is enjoying great prosperity which it has enjoyed for the last ten years. I suppose that it would be true to say that British farming has never enjoyed such prosperity before; yet this area is languishing and limping. Therefore, we must ask ourselves why it should be so at a time when British agriculture is most prosperous. To find the answer we must, I think, reexamine the natural economy of the area. I have tried to do so and have come to the conclusion that a new orientation is necessary, and it is to this that I wish to draw the attention of the House in particular.
It would be a grave mistake to regard farming as the only industry in this part of Wales, though I agree that it must be the major activity there. It would be fatal if we were to come to the conclusion that the only rural industry was farming, although admittedly it is the main industry. If the area is to survive, and most certainly if it is to flourish, a new balance of the economy is required. No area either industrial or agricultural can survive and flourish if it has all its eggs in one basket. That is the danger here.
1366 It is right to say that the chief stimulant to farming is demand. Industry of any kind will flourish when there is a demand for its products, and that is specially true of farming. It requires a market. Assuming, as we think correctly, that the area is, broadly speaking, marginal, then it is of fundamental importance that the market should be on the doorstep; the market cannot be too near. It is our task to provide a market on the very doorstep of the area.
The question is, where is the doorstep? The answer, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) and the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen), is in the villages and settlements in this part of Wales. If these places and the small towns decline, then we will have a declining market for farming and a declining farming community. On the other hand, if we can revive and resuscitate these villages and settlements and give them the facilities to grow, then they will become the markets on the doorstep of the farming community. Unfortunately, what has happened, and it is still happening, is that these places are declining, with the result that there is a depressed farming community. If they could be strengthened—if to begin with they could be stabilised and then developed—two consequences would follow. First, rural depopulation would be arrested and then reversed, and secondly local demand for farm produce would be increased, and that would bring new life to the farms.
How can we revitalise these villages? How can we resuscitate these communities? For forty years rural depopulation has been discussed, and it is becoming largely an academic question. The time has arrived when we must look at the matter in its proper perspective. We must seek the answer. The question is how can we resuscitate these rural settlements? If we can find the answer to that, then we shall have gone a very long way.
If I may refer again to the configuration of the region; the Rivers Teifi, Towy, Wye, Ithon, Teme and Severn, between them, because they radiate through that country, divide the plateau areas into upland blocks more or less of equal size.
These uplands are nowhere very far removed from the villages on the floors of the valley. The centres are Ystrad 1367 Meurig, Tregaron, Rhayader, Llanbister, Llanbadarn, Fynydd, Llangurig, Llanidloes.
§ Mr. Jones
Those are the centres. Flanking those centres and overhanging them are afforestation schemes to which reference has already been made. My suggestion, in support of what has already been proposed by my hon. Friend, is that these ancient settlements should become the focal points of the ancillary industries of afforestation. If they could, that would bring new life to the upper reaches of these valleys and there would be formed a suitable market for the produce of our farms. That, to my mind, is the crux of the problem.
Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, the stability of peasant economy was based on the equilibrium between various economic factors of the areas. For example, there was a relationship between the size and the number of holdings and the rural crafts in the valleys. There was a definite relationship between them. The rural industries have disappeared and the equilibrium has thus been upset, and that is the cause of our trouble. A vacuum has been created. It was created towards the end of the last century, and that vacuum remains to be filled, and until that vacuum is filled, I can see no solution of this problem. We can say of this area: it isStanding between two worlds,One dead; the other powerless to be born.It is in that context and against that background that I suggest that afforestation and the ancillary industries can be of great help; indeed, can be of vital influence in this area.
I conclude by quoting from page 33 of the Report a very significant short sentence:The Forestry Commission is keenly aware of the part it can and should play in stopping the drift of rural population into the industrial towns but it would appear to have come on the scene a generation late, after the people had already gone.That is the old story, and it is tragic. It is the old tragic story of being too late. That is why I am anxious to have it on the record that it will be another tragedy if, in about thirty years, somebody on 1368 the Floor of this House should have to say, "Action has been taken too late."
At the present moment the forests are beginning to yield. In ten years' time there will be 500,000 cubic feet of timber, and a few years later more than 1,750,000 cubic feet of timber, and yet there is no major timber-using industry in or near the area. Now is the time to plan the production of wood processing industries within this area. At the present moment, why cannot we see opening in the various villages I have referred to the trimming and sawing of timber for pit props, window frames and doors? I do not see why we cannot have a pencil factory in this part of Wales. Why not have a wood pulp factory as well?
If all this were done, we could stiffen the rural communities, strengthen them and urbanise them. If we can urbanise those rural communities, then that area will have a market on its doorstep, and that market is essential for the revived prosperity of this interesting part of the Principality.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
I should like to thank the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Idwal Jones) for the way in which he expressed our collective appreciation of the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt). That speech, indeed, was one of many excellent speeches which have already been contributed to what I think my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will agree is a most interesting and valuable debate.
What has been said today suggests that the Government have done entirely what the predecessor of the present Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs promised to do after the publication of the first White Paper which followed the first investigation into a larger area in mid-Wales. What we have heard today would suggest that it was probably a good thing that there was no hasty action taken at that time. Rather, we now have the benefit of this further investigation over a more limited field and in a more limited area.
This is not a small problem. It is, indeed, a very large problem, and I do not think that any hon. Member on either side of the House would try to hide the fact. Some of the figures bear it out. 1369 I was impressed by the cost of some of the amenities which are needed in areas of this kind. For example, a farm road suitable to take modern traffic costs 30s. per linear yard, a water service pipe 10s. per linear yard, and a mains electricity supply line 12s. per linear yard, making the cost of these services some 50s. per linear yard, a cost which, in the aggregate, amounts to more than £4,000 per mile. Obviously, the expense of providing those amenities on any considerable scale is a very substantial item indeed.
We are told in the Report the estimated cost of rehabilitating some of the holdings in the reference area even on the existing pattern. We have been given a figure of about £2,300,000. So we are considering a very large financial problem in a limited area. That problem, of course, becomes much larger in size when extended to the much larger area which was considered, prior to this investigation, before the, publication of the 1953 White Paper. That is the size of the problem.
I would comment briefly on one or two of the conclusions. One of them, the inadequate size of the holdings, is in strange juxtaposition with something else which has been commented upon by previous speakers, namely, the growth in owner-occupation of many of these holdings. Now 60 per cent. of them are owner-occupied. We are also told that it is probable that some of the holdings are too small. I suppose that the increase in the number of owner-occupiers is necessarily a healthy sign. On the other hand, the inadequate size of the holdings is probably due to the increased cost today of equipping a holding economically and effectively. It may be that years ago holdings of this size were far more feasible as economic units.
The lack of roads is mentioned in the conclusions of the Mid-Wales Investigation Report and for that reason I would ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider with great care the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955, which was passed to secure access to certain stock areas in Wales in particular. I appreciate what has been said by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture about the reasons why the implementation of the Act has been somewhat delayed, but I would remind my 1370 right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that originally that Act was designed solely for the benefit of Wales.
It is true that subsequently it was extended to include some areas in other parts of the United Kingdom, but the Act arose from previous debates on this problem and it was first framed as a result of an undertaking given by a former Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs, Lord Kilmuir. Obviously, it was recognised that this was a particular requirement and that there was a unique need for roads of this kind in this part of Wales. I ask my right hon. Friend, therefore, to fight within the Cabinet for priority for the provision of these roads.
The remoteness of a holding from a community can be a considerable difficulty. Not only may it cause increased expense for the farmer in delivering his products and offering them for sale, but in many cases it may mean lack of any market at all. We should also remember that where there is remoteness of that kind it is all the more disheartening for the farmer's wife and his family. It makes life less interesting and a more bleak affair, and for that reason we should not be tempted to over-emphasise the influence of mere lack of amenities.
I am not satisfied that people leave these areas solely because they have no electric light. I have the impression that even where these amenities are provided, many young people go in search of a gayer existence in the cities. We must not imagine that the provision of these things will completely stop that process, but we should pay attention to remoteness from a community as one of the influences operating adversely against holdings of this kind.
The Mid-Wales Investigation Report stresses the need for a change in these areas to cattle and sheep rearing even where at present the emphasis is on milk. That may be extremely desirable, but I caution my right hon. Friend that even in richer areas than this, even where there is comparatively rich land, I have found that it would be extremely difficult to persuade farmers to turn over from dairy farming, because so many of them depend financially upon the regular cheque which they received for their milk—money which they cannot expect with such certainty and regularity for other commodities.
1371 I believe that what has been said already in the debate has justified the first investigation into this problem and the undertaking given in respect of roads and also this further investigation by the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission and its excellent Report. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford, I hope that action will result from the Report. In particular, I ask my right hon. Friend to see what can be done to give effect to the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act which was intended to have particular application to Wales.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
I should like to pay my tribute to the distinguished panel responsible for preparing the admirable Mid-Wales Investigation Report which we are now discussing. The Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission has added considerably to our knowledge of this complex subject and the Report will probably remain a classic of its kind. I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) on the lucid and comprehensive speech with which he opened the debate, and to felicitate the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) on his excellent maiden speech.
I am glad to understand that there is to be a White Paper on the subject of our debate, but I feel that it should have been published a fortnight or three weeks ago so that we could have had an opportunity of discussing it today. In that sense, I am bound to say that this is a very disappointing debate, because we have not been told by the Government spokesman what the Government's proposals are for tackling these serious problems. It is a great pity that the White Paper was not available in time for this debate. After all, the Minister has had the Mid-Wales Investigation Report since December, 1955. I should have thought that by now there would have been sufficient time to prepare his proposals.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture, when he intervened in the debate, made, as he generally does, a very agreeable speech. We are always very pleased to listen to him, but he has not told us anything new. 1372 The people of Wales will be extremely disappointed when they read reports of the debate. We have to bear in mind that this Mid-Wales Investigation Report is one of a series of documents which the Government have had presented to them since the party opposite came to power in 1951. In July, 1953 there was the Second Memorandum of the Council for Wales and Monmouth which disclosed an extremely serious situation in the rural areas of Wales as a whole. Subsequently, we had a Government White Paper on Rural Wales, towards the end of 1953, and finally we have had the document which we are now considering.
All the documents record a similar conclusion, namely, that there is a very grave problem to be solved in the rural areas of Wales. We must remember that the present Report is a pilot survey of one representative area in Wales, but the ills that are disclosed in this area occur far and wide, from Pembroke to Anglesey.
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, throughout the whole of Wales.
The problems disclosed are not merely economic, but are also great social problems. The House must now consider that after all these years and after all these documents have been published the Government have so far done nothing. I indict the Government because I see no results and no action following the publication of these documents.
The hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) mentioned the Agriculture (Improvement of the Roads) Act, which deals with rural roads. That Measure was designed to assist in the maintenance and repair of the roads in the upland areas of Wales. So far, however, no assistance has been given to any of the highway authorities in Wales, although the Act was passed some months ago. I should have thought that the Government would have excluded special areas of this kind from their economy measures. After all, they are not saving much by taking no action under that Act. I ask the Minister, therefore, to look again at the position, to see if a few thousand pounds cannot be squeezed out of the pocket of the Chancellor so that the upland roads of Wales can be repaired properly.
1373 Today we expected to hear from the Minister the plans of the Government, because without those plans being before us we cannot have an effective debate. The Government are very much on trial in this matter. In November, 1953, paragraph 15 of the White Paper on Rural Wales stated:The Government are in full sympathy with the broad aims indicated by the Rural Panel: to establish a stable rural economy; to safeguard the position of the agricultural industry; and at the same time to secure the full development of the resources of the rural areas, so that mote people can attain a reasonable standard of living in them and enjoy a full social life. They agree too with the Panel's approach to the strengthening of the rural economy.Those are brave words and they are words which we all support. They were uttered nearly three years ago. What we want to know is what concrete steps the Government will take to implement those proposals.
In the Report before us there are, as I see it, three central points to be considered. First, there is the question of larger farm units, because the Report advocates the creation of larger and more economic farms. On all the evidence that certainly seems to be desirable. The question is, how are the larger units to be achieved? I do not think we can expect that they will be created through natural evolution in any short time or in the foreseeable future. Indeed, it might, take a couple of centuries to happen in that way.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon said, we are against regimentation or compulsion, and it is for that reason we are not attracted to the idea of the rationalisation grant, because that would involve an element of compulsion. The Minister ought to consider bringing the county councils into the scheme. The smallholdings Act works very well, as the Minister knows. Why not empower and encourage the county councils of Wales to acquire larger units? They could then show the way by operating on the principle of marrying the hill farms to the lowland farms. That is a far more desirable way of dealing with this problem than amalgamating the upland farms.
I suggest also that the county councils in Wales might elect a central committee to supervise this work, so that we might have some uniformity of policy through- 1374 out the Principality. I hasten to add that I agree entirely with the Report which states that it does not envisage a uniform pattern of large units, and that there should be a number of smallholdings in favourable areas within reasonable reach of the centres of community life. We do not want a uniform postage-stamp system of large farms in Wales. If, however, we are to bring stability to these areas, it is clear that positive action short of regimentation is required. That is why I suggest that it might be a good thing to bring the county councils, which are democratically elected bodies, into the picture.
The second point in the Report which is important is that new alternative sources of employment are required in the area generally, because this would strengthen the community and would infuse fresh blood into the economy. The sad part of it is that the Government, whilst paying lip-service to this, do nothing to make it a reality. The White Paper of 1953 stated that the Government were in full sympathy with the encouragement of industry ancillary to agriculture and forestry.
What happened? My hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) have already mentioned the pulping mill which was built to deal with timber from the Welsh forests. On the basis of what the Government said in their White Paper, one would have thought that this mill would have been built in Montgomeryshire or in Merionethshire to deal with timber from the Welsh forests. What an inspiration that would have been in those counties and it would have been a great event in rural Wales generally. There would have been an official opening, to which we would all have been invited, because it would have been an important occasion. It is likely that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Minister for Welsh Affairs, who has just come into the Chamber, would have been invited—
§ Mr. Hughes
Yes, as my right hon. Friend has suggested, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman would have had a characteristic Welsh welcome and a very good tea. Why? Because one mill in 1375 that area would make a great difference to the prospects of employment and to the prosperity of the area. But what happened in the event was that the pulping mill was built in Ellesmere Port where there is a surplus of labour, where there is a shortage of housing and where there is a shortage of power. Really, it makes us doubt the sincerity of the Government when they compose White Papers with fulsome paragraphs of this kind. I ask the Minister to look again at this matter. If the Government are serious about establishing suitable industries in Wales, they must do something more than they have done in the last three years.
Some people will say that this lack of action on the part of the Government is a deliberate act to depopulate the Welsh countryside. I do not say it, but this lack of action and this lack of interest over a period of years is a serious matter. So I appeal to the Government to show that they intend to act differently in the future.
The third point is on the question of amenities and has been mentioned by several speakers already. Rural Wales is well behind the rest of Britain in the provision of electricity and piped water, of rural housing, of sanitation, of roads in rural areas, of rural transport—of all those things which keep people, especially young people, in the countryside. We cannot expect the young housewife to stay with her family in the rural areas of Wales unless she is given the same amenities as her counterpart in the towns and cities. Why should she? What we want to know is what the Government are doing to provide these amenities. It is no use treating Wales in these matters in the same way as Kent and Surrey. There is a long way to go to bring Wales up to the national average. There is a tremendous backlog to be made up as regards rural electricity, and all the other amenities.
The second Memorandum of the Council of Wales, which was treated in a very cavalier fashion by the Government when we were debating it three years ago, suggested the setting up of an agency to tackle these problems so as to bring Wales up to the average standards of the United Kingdom. We are still very far behind.
The Government are on trial. The Welsh people are the judge and the jury; 1376 they have been very patient for many years, but they will shortly be in a position to give their verdict and to pass sentence.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Newport by-election is a few days ahead. The issues involved are not small. I was impressed by some words in paragraph 129 of the Report which state:Although our investigation has been economic in its approach we would not be human if we did not appreciate the concern which is felt by many responsible Welshmen at the possibility of the disintegration of a way of life which has endured for centuries. Rural Wales has nurtured a democratic outlook and an appreciation of true values which are of lasting worth.It is this outlook and these values which we are today asking the Government to preserve. If they do not take action to preserve these things which we value and hold dear, they will stand indicted, and the Welsh people will never forgive the party opposite.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Garner Evans (Denbigh)
I am glad that I shall not be able to follow the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) in a great deal of his speech, because he was rather disgruntled, I thought, this afternoon. One point he made needs a reply. He criticised the Government for not producing the White Paper before the debate. I should have thought that it was much better for the Government to bring out the White Paper when they could bear in mind all the excellent points which the hon. Member for Anglesey has made. I am sure they will be reflected in the White Paper when it is produced.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Surely that is on the assumption that there will be another day to debate the White Paper.
§ Mr. Evans
Fortunately, I believe, there are always other days ahead of us when we shall be able to debate it. I hope that it will be such a good White Paper that we shall be able to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in full praise of the Government on that occasion. That is our hope.
I, too, want to pay tribute to the authors of this most interesting Report. It is a delightful document. On the 1377 whole, we must confess that it draws a rather gloomy picture. To me the most significant sentence in the Report occurs at the bottom of page 31:It follows that if rural depopulation is to be checked or reversed the remedy must lie in the promotion of rural activities other than agriculture.When it goes on to discuss this problem, the only industry or activity ancillary to agriculture which it suggests is forestry. We all want to see a partnership between agriculture and forestry. We all know that there is a great future for forestry in Wales. We want to make that partnership run as smoothly as we possibly can. Nevertheless, I agree with much of the criticism levelled at the Forestry Commission in the House this afternoon; it is still on the arrogant side.
One point I would make—perhaps this is a King Charles's head with me—is that the Forestry Commission does not make an all-out effort to recruit Welshmen. There are still far too many Englishmen or Scotsmen in the hierarchy of the Forestry Commission in Wales, and I wish the Commission would make a greater effort to recruit young foresters into the school at Bettws-y-Coed and into forestry activities generally.
A great deal has been said this afternoon about the building of a paper pulp mill at Ellesmere Port. We have been asked why it could not have been built in mid-Wales. What utter and absolute rubbish!
§ Mr. Evans
For this reason: the bulk of the timber to be used in that mill is imported timber. We have water communications at Ellesmere Port. The very idea that one could take the timber from overseas up the Severn is ridiculous.
The culprit in this respect is not the Bowater Paper Corporation Ltd.; it is the National Coal Board, which is quite the worst buyer of Welsh timber at the moment. Let me give an example. Until recently in the constituency of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Idwal Jones) there was a very useful saw mill treating and processing pit props. That mill employed about 20 to 30 people who lived in my constituency, in the Ceiriog Valley, which is now denuded of all industry. There was some mix-up in the Coal Board—I do not know what it was—and, as a result, that mill making pit props 1378 at Black Park, was closed down. I hope that the Coal Board will co-operate much more with the Forestry Commission in future to see that pit props are made in Wales and that far less use is made of imported pit props.
I turn briefly to the agricultural prospects. I do not like the idea which runs through the Report that the solution of our problems lies in the amalgamation of small units, even though it be on a voluntary basis, and the creation of bigger units. I state quite firmly that these smaller units can be made economic and that the Welsh way of life which the present occupiers enjoy can be encouraged if only capital can be provided to enable them to improve their buildings and build up their stock. I am sure that the crux of the matter and the solution of the problem lies in the provision of long-term credits for farmers, so that they can rehabilitate their holdings. On those lines, I am sure, we shall be able to maintain the population on these farms, even on the small and so-called uneconomic units.
Turning to the question of subsidies, I am delighted that hon. Members have frowned upon the idea that grants should be made only on condition that there is amalgamation. That idea has been scotched this afternoon in the very able speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) and the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts). Nevertheless, much greater use could be made of subsidies to encourage the rearing of livestock on those farms which have turned over so much to milk production if only we could have a long-term policy guaranteeing to the farmer a fair price for store cattle in three years' time. That security would do a great deal to persuade him to turn from milk production to meat production.
There are very many things in the Report with which I should like to deal. I must confess that I was very disappointed with the tone of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech this afternoon when he discussed amenities and the public services in the rural areas. I believe that an all-out effort must be made to improve the roads and to take electricity and water supplies to the rural areas, because without these amenities we shall lose this great inheritance of the Welsh way of life.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. T. W. Jones (Merioneth)
The Report we are considering this afternoon is excellent in every respect, in its material and in its presentation. It reflects great credit on the four gentlemen and their secretary who compiled it. But what should we expect from four Welshmen, except that? If one wants the best English, one gets Welshmen to write it, and if one wants the best Welsh, one goes to Merionethshire. We will have a bit of it before I sit down.
If the Report is implemented—but what a tremendous "if" with the present Government—that will go a long way to solving the problem of depopulation in rural Wales. The problem of depopulation in our area is tragic, as I have emphasised in the House on many occasions. It has been well put by the compilers of the Report, who have emphasised, as I have done, that it is a problem not only of the reduction in the population, but of something far more important than that. The Report says:Although our investigation has been economic in its approach we would not be human if we did not appreciate the concern which is felt by many responsible Welshmen at the possibility of the disintegration of a way of life which has endured for centuries. Rural Wales has nurtured a democratic outlook and an appreciation of true values which are of lasting worth.How true that is. Wales is the most Socialist country in the world.
A tremendous responsibility lies on the Government to tackle the problem of depopulation and to tackle it with a will, with enthusiasm and determination to solve it. I have held the view all along, and I am confirmed in my view by the Report, that the real cause of rural depopulation is lack of social amenities and social services. The Report goes further than I should have dared to have gone. It says:The main causes of marginality of farming in this area are poor public services and lack of community life.Our only hope of preventing a complete dereliction of the rural areas is to introduce into them urban standards of living.
The young people of today are not prepared to spend their lives in an area completely devoid of social amenities and social services. Who can blame them? These are the very people who should have the first claim on modern amenities and social services. They are cut off from 1380 communal life and are living in remote parts of Wales, but instead of being specially considered, they are actually being penalised because they happen to live in those areas.
Let me illustrate my point in a very simple way. I have spent a fortnight in negotiation with the Postmaster-General. Having had a fortnight's negotiation, I would not have blamed my hon. Friends if they concluded that I am after some tremendous project, a new telephone exchange, or perhaps a new B.B.C. station on Cader Idris. It was not that. I was after a letter box. This letter box is to serve a group of hill farms. I will read a letter which I have received from the Clerk to the Penllyn Rural District Council which will admirably explain the position which is now prevailing in a typically rural area. Before doing so, I should like to explain that I find no fault with the local postmaster in what he did, because he had to work within a prescribed financial limit.
This is a small question of a letter box, but I emphasise that the case sums up the position in rural areas. The letter reads:Dear Mr. Jones,This Council have made application to the Head Postmaster at Corwen to provide a pillar box at Tynybwlch, Glan'rafon in this district. Tynybwlch is situated on cross-roads—Bethel—Soar—Glan'rafon—Maerdy (Denbighshire). A telephone kiosk has already been erected at this point which clearly shows that there is a demand for postal and telephone facilities in this district.See how logical these people are. Now comes the illogical:The Head Postmaster has stated in reply that the number of letters likely to be posted in a box at the proposed point would not justify the cost of erection and subsequent clearance, and he therefore regretted that he could not accede to the Council's request.The Council expressed their disappointment at the refusal and I was instructed to write the Head Postmaster again pointing out that the nearest posting box to Tynybwlch is at least 1¼ miles away and requesting him to re-consider his decision and to arrange for this facility to be provided.A further letter was received"—so typical—from him to the effect that he had carefully reviewed the matter but was sorry he was unable to find any sufficient grounds for modifying his previous decision.The letter was submitted to the last Council meeting, when I was instructed to write and ask whether you will kindly take the matter further on behalf of the Council.1381 I have had to take up this matter of a letter box with the Minister, but I am pleased to say that this morning I was promised a letter box—[Laughter.]—in spite of the credit squeeze.
Why should people, because they live in rural areas, be denied these facilities? Why should a person living in that part of the world have to walk two miles to post a letter? It now takes a week for a letter to get there. Indeed, a love letter has lost its fervour before it arrives at its destination.
I want to deal with another matter, and I refer now to unadopted and unclassified roads in rural areas. On page 35 the Report says:In many areas the condition of roads over which we travelled was very poor and we consider that the principle of special grants proposed by the Government for the improvement of unclassified and unadopted roads in livestock rearing areas, under the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Bill, can be of immense benefit to agriculture and the rural economy generally.The other evening I attended a meeting in my constituency at a village called Melin-y-Wig—what a delightful name.
Melin-y-Wig is a typical Welsh peasant community, where English, like every other language except Welsh, is regarded as foreign. It is about three miles to Corwen, and it has two bus services a week. When I asked why this was so, I was told that it was because, first, the bus could not negotiate the narrow and winding road leading to and from the village, and, second, that when the bus arrived at the main road it could not pick up more passengers because of the interests of another bus company. Is it any wonder that young people cannot be persuaded to settle down in isolated villages of this kind?
I had much hope of the effect of the Agricultural (Improvement of Roads) Act, which was passed last July. The Merioneth County Council was going to take full advantage of that Act. For months it had been preparing its plans. All the plans were ready to hand to the Minister when I asked him when he would be ready to receive them, and he then said, "I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Jones, that there will be no grants during the current year, due to the financial squeeze." What a Government! After we had spent months and months in Committee discussing the Bill, and after I had praised it time and time again, although 1382 it was a Tory Bill; after we had expected so much from it, and the Merioneth County Council had spent days, weeks and months preparing its plans, and had even precepted to the tune of £80,000 to spend upon its unadopted and unclassified roads, we were told that the Government could not afford to implement its own Measure. What hopes, therefore, have we that the Report will be implemented?
I ask the Minister to be in deadly earnest in this matter. I know that his illustrious father would have been had he had the opportunity to put this into operation. It is well known that when a civil servant told him that something was impossible his reply was, "Get me someone who can make it possible." I ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to consider the Report carefully and implement it 100 per cent. if possible. If he does so, the people of Wales will feel very thankful to him.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The debate began with a characteristically constructive speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), who presented the problem and discussed and criticised constructively the proposals in the Report. He spoke in a manner which we have come to expect from him, and I thank him for the tone which he set at the beginning of the debate.
During the course of the debate we have had many delightful speeches. I join other hon. Members in offering the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) my felicitations upon his speech. I did my best, not without success, to prevent him from becoming a Member of Parliament for the constituency in which I lived for some time, namely. Brecon and Radnor. He had to go further afield, over the border, to find a political home. His contribution delighted us all, and we look forward to further speeches from him during our debates. We have just had a characteristically Welsh speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones), which also delighted us all.
I shall keep the House for only a short time, because I want to allow the Minister time to reply. Although our discussion this afternoon has centred mainly upon the Report, that Report does not stand 1383 alone. It owes its origin to an earlier Report by the Council for Wales. When we debated that earlier Report one of the suggestions which the Government said that they were considering was that the technical aspects of the problem should be examined by a special technical body. Speaking as a layman, who does not profess to be able to follow closely or completely the technical terms of the Report, I join in expressing my gratitude for the good job which the Sub-Commission has done.
The Council for Wales approached the problem from the point of view that mid-Wales was an area—with only part of which the Report deals—which was disintegrating and dying. The first question the Council asked itself was whether it should be allowed to die. I can tell the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, whose speech disappointed me, that it is dying by natural evolution and the natural process of allowing economic changes to work themselves out without any regard being had to the social consequences.
The Council came to the conclusion that this area was worth rehabilitating, restoring and preserving. The House must bear in mind that the Welsh people approach this problem not as one of so many acres, so many farms, so many head of cattle or so many forests, but as a whole series of communities each with what we call, in our own language, its Cefn-Gwlad—its own traditions, deeply rooted in the soil, and its own distinctive characteristic peasant culture. I ask the Minister to reaffirm that the Government accept the basic premise that this area is worth rehabilitating.
The second conclusion at which the Council arrived was that this area cannot be rehabilitated or saved out of its own resources; it must have external aid. The Council not only came to that conclusion, but proposed a bold and imaginative plan. Let us praise it for that, whether we accept it or reject it. It said that a corporation should be set up. I believe that the suggestion had its origin in the example of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
I ask the House to realise that this, the biggest job of its kind in America; the wonderful Gezira scheme in the Sudan, and similar projects could not 1384 have come into being simply by evolution. They owed their existence to the investment of public money and to planning for an objective. The Council suggested that a corporation should be set up which should be provided with £60 million over 12 years to take this job in hand. The suggestion was put forward, first, because the area could not do what was necessary from its own resources and, secondly—as the Council said—because the local authorities were so weak in their resources of all kinds.
That is the background to this matter. We now have the technical Report, and we are to have a White Paper. We are entitled to ask the Government to give at least some indication of their views upon a report published eight months ago. They have said that by the end of this month—three weeks from now—they will come to a conclusion upon the matter and publish a White Paper. I presume that they have given some consideration to the question during the last eight months—or is the consideration to begin today and finish in three weeks' time, after which they will publish a White Paper? They have heard the views of hon. Members in the House.
I want to ask the Minister one other question. We may have different views about the Council for Wales and whether it is properly constituted, but at the moment it is the only body that we have of this kind. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) has written an interesting booklet, in which he has suggested changes in the composition and character of the Council for Wales, and I hope that it will be read and studied. It commands my approval and I commend it to hon. Members.
Before the Government publish their White Paper, do they propose to consult the Council for Wales and ask for its views and comments? I hope that they will do so. They are not obliged to accept those views and comments, but the Council for Wales is the body which began this movement and it ought in courtesy to be consulted.
I have read the Report with very great care, approaching it as a layman without professing to be able to understand it in all its full technical implications. The whole problem came to life for me in Appendix N (1) in pages 76 to 78 of the 1385 Report. It describes a tiny bit of what is called the "reference area",—a valley which is given no name. I do not know where the valley is except that it is in this reference area.
Having read this part of the Report, I felt inclined to borrow, with deep respect for his memory, the name which one of the greatest of our lyrical poets, Eifion Wyn, gave to his valley Cwm Pennant; and with great daring I will seek to translate his wonderful first couplet into English:Why, Lord, did you make Cwm Pennant so fairAnd the life of a shepherd so frail?Here in this valley we see the problem in miniature. Let us see it on a small scale small even for the reference area. The Appendix tells us:The valley is entered at a distance of about a mile from a village and from a good public road: it is served by an unclassified road, with a tarmacadam surface for about a mile, with indifferent farm roads leading to the farmsteads, most of which are situated on the sides of the valley. The land lies between 900 and 1,400 feet and has a south-easterly aspect.Then, the soil is described and these words about this little valley are added:Public water and electricity supplies and telephones are not available in the valley.That is where the problem begins.
The Report then speaks about the farmsteads and their equipment. I hope the House will listen to this and I hope that it will be read outside:The standard of fixed equipment in the valley is extremely low. The farmsteads are old and appear to date from at least 70–100 years ago and none of the farmhouses has modern conveniences. The buildings are quite unfit for the housing of attested stock: the cowhouses are low, lacking light and ventilation, and with cobbled floors; stonework is in need of repointing and in places rebuilding, whilst woodwork is in most cases badly in need of repair.That is the valley. I should not be surprised if it had produced poets and preachers—and, indeed, politicians, too. [HON. MEMBERS: "It has."] It has, and it does still.
§ Mr. Griffiths
There are nine farms in this valley. In the Report they are scheduled simply as farms Nos. 1 to 9. Here are the ages of the occupiers of these nine farms in the valley: 50, 45, 69, 70, 83, 65, 54, 81 and 45. This picture applies not only to the valley: it is 1386 the general problem. This is a disintegrating area from which the young have flown.
Consider the whole of the reference area, with its 1,404 farms. Two-thirds of the occupiers are over 50 years of age. The occupiers of only 21 of the 1,404 farms are under 30 years of age. There is the problem. It is a valley of old men and yet this valley, as the whole of the area, has given to our own country and, through our country, to Britain and to the world richly in its peasant culture as well as in its production.
The Report goes further. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary is present, because I would say to him that if he allows these things to happen by natural evolution there will be no hope for the valley. Using its own technical assessment of what is required to re-equip the nine farms in the valley, the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission gives its suggestions in page 78 of the Report. It says that the cost of re-equipping these farms to make them efficient would amount to a total of £43,750. The cost of equipment and services would be £23,550 and the rest would be for public services. That is the position if the farms were to be equipped as a whole.
The Sub-Commission then illustrates, in a very interesting plan which it has produced for us, how the whole valley would be dealt with if its plan of amalgamation was adopted and the nine farms were merged into two new holdings. Even when that was done, the amount that would be required for re-equipment is indeed substantial. The Sub-Commission says:A reorganisation on the lines suggested would result in a saving estimated at £7,725 in the cost of rehabilitating fixed equipment and £12,475 in the cost of providing services.The crux of the whole of this problem if we are to recover this area is whether there is any hope that the owners of these nine farms or the public authorities in the area can provide the money to do the job.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not for a moment deny that. I agree with what has been said about this proposal of amalgamation. 1387 I do not think it is the answer. What I am saying—and I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) appreciates this—is that whether we accept the method of retaining the nine farms and re-equipping them or whether we accept the alternative of amalgamation, the cost of doing it is such that neither these farmers nor the public authorities can sustain it. We therefore come back to the position that if we are to do anything, capital must be injected into the area.
I have examined and have tried to give the best of my mind to the problem of amalgamation. I am familiar, as are some of my hon. Friends, with compulsory amalgamation in another industry; I have seen it at work. Believe me, it leaves as many problems as it solves. Here, the proposal is either compulsory amalgamation or, presumably, to let these people die or to wait until somebody comes along and buys them up. That is what is happening now. The Report refers to the fact that one of the nine farms in the valley has already been bought up. How long the whole process would take I do not know, but it might clearly take a long time. In the meantime, the valley will go on dying and, in the end, there will be no one left.
I have seen all this in my lifetime. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) and I lived at the receiving end, in West Wales. For generations we have given the best of our youth to the pits in our mining areas. We know them by their nicknames, as they are called after the villages from which they come. So this process has been going on. What young man will settle down in a valley with houses of this kind, in farmsteads of this kind, and to this kind of life? I know that these areas have produced sturdy characters in the past, but young people will no longer settle down and live there.
I should like to suggest, in the case of this valley, wherever it is, an alternative to amalgamation, and I hope consideration will be given to it. If we reject amalgamation, we should provide an alternative. I should like to see an attempt made to get these nine farmers to agree together to work the whole of this valley in a co-operative way. One of the most encouraging things in all rural 1388 areas is the growth of young farmers' clubs, which are making a new approach and doing a good job. I should like to see that attempt made here, because the growth of such co-operation, the influence of co-operation and the contribution that can be made by such co-operation to Welsh rural life will be increasingly more important. I should prefer to see that, rather than the amalgamation of two farmers and all the rest clearing out. Why should we not for once try to settle this problem in a co-operative way?
My last point is that, in paragraph 83 of the Report, it is stated that, assuming that efficient farming is brought about in the ways which the Sub-Commission suggest or in any other way, if we are to solve the problem of rural depopulation and save this area from the decay which has been slowly killing it for generations, it is essential that, in addition to having an efficient agriculture supplied with modern equipment and public services, which will require the expenditure of public money, there must also be other industries.
I speak as a layman, though not without some experience of this problem of attracting other industries in South Wales. It is a tough job, and if it is difficult to attract new industries to Llanelly, it will not be easy to get new industries into Merioneth. We cannot hope to attract any new industries unless the basic services are provided. We must have power and communications, which means electric power and good roads. Therefore, we must do that, and that brings us back to the proposals of the Report of the Council for Wales about rehabilitation and the provision of public services in the area.
Having done that, we must face the fact that what is now, and is certainly going to be, a most important part of the life and the economic structure of these areas is afforestation. Hard things have been said about the Forestry Commission this afternoon, but I do not altogether share them. We had not heard much about the hardness of landlords in this debate. It is becoming very fashionable to attack public authorities, and the National Coal Board is attacked because it does not use Welsh timber. I confess that when I was a collier I preferred Norwegian timber to Welsh timber. That was many years ago, and now I hope 1389 that the Coal Board will use Welsh timber and more and more of it, though we have to realise that steel is increasingly taking the place of timber in the pits.
There are ancillary industries to this forestry industry, which is growing, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gower was one of the pioneers many years ago in building it up. It is now reaching maturity, and, therefore, let us have, first, the basic services of power and communications and then, by Government action—do not let us expect private enterprise to do it—take steps under the Distribution of Industry Act to schedule this area and build other industries.
I will conclude by saying that we have to make up our minds whether or not we want this area to live. If we do, we have to realise that it cannot live on its own resources, and if we are determined that it shall live we must be equally determined to provide the resources. I hope very much that we shall; I dare not and would not go further than that. I presume that the White Paper which we are to have will be prepared in the whole atmosphere of economy which we heard about yesterday. We shall wait until we receive it. Believe me, we speak for the whole of the people of Wales when we say that we are determined to save and preserve this area. If the Government do not do so we shall be very disappointed with them, but we shall cherish the hope that at no very distant date another Government will do the job.
§ 6.45 p.m.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. D. Heathcoat Amory)
I should like to start by thanking my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary and Minister for Welsh Affairs for allowing me the privilege of participating in a Welsh debate. I must confess that, for the first ten years of my life in this House, I was too shy even to come into the Chamber during a Welsh debate. This is the second Welsh debate in which I have participated, and I must say that I am immensely impressed with its very high standard. It makes me feel that I want to go away and practise for quite a long time before I attempt to speak in the House again.
I should like also to support what has been said already in congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford 1390 (Mr. Gibson-Watt), on his most interesting and eloquent maiden speech. I have several times been slightly scared of going to those parts to which he referred. My hon. Friend mentioned a threat which I had not heard of before—the danger that one might be struck by a thunderbolt there. However, I should like to say that the knowledge which my hon. Friend possesses on these subjects which we are discussing today makes him a very welcome recruit to our ranks.
The hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. C. Hughes) asked why we did not present a White Paper before the debate. I should like to say that we did not choose the date of this debate, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Garner Evans) said, if we had presented our conclusions first we should have been criticised by hon. Members opposite for not listening to what they had to say about this very important Report before making up our minds. I am quite certain that, with a problem like this, it will require the enthusiastic co-operation of all concerned to overcome it, and I think we are right to enter into the fullest consultation before making up our minds, including hearing the views of hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies.
I should like to say, in reply to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), that we have consulted the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire, and have received their comments—
I have listened to a very great many interesting and constructive suggestions which have been made, and I should like to pay my tribute to the constructive tone of the very interesting speech made at the outset by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), and to say that the large number of practical suggestions which have been made have added greatly to the value of our debate.
About the Report itself, I am going to say very little. It is a most thorough, comprehensive and courageous Report, and I have already expressed my thanks to the very able gentlemen who were its authors. I have found it an absorbingly interesting document, and must also say that I thought it was extremely well 1391 written. I learned many things from it, including all about Hafod and Hendre, about which I did not know anything before. The Report bears out the basic views which have been expressed by the Council for Wales and Monmouthshire. One thing I was interested to note was that many of these smaller holdings, which are now full-time holdings, used to be part-time holdings, because that is one of our problems.
The Report contains four main recommendations. The first is that livestock rearing ought to be the main farming activity—and, when I say main, I agree with much of what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen). We cannot change overnight from milk to livestock rearing, and livestock rearing will not be the only form of farming. We recognise that on this matter of changing over from milk to livestock the arguments used in the Report show that really successful farming will, in general, be in livestock rearing, and I think that those arguments are very impressive. Secondly, it is pointed out that forestry has an important part to play, too. Thirdly, amalgamation will, in many cases, be sensible. Fourthly, great emphasis is placed on the development of the public services.
In general, we agree with all these four points. I entirely share the views of almost all hon. Gentlemen that compulsion would be fatal to the achievement of the objects we have in mind. But when we are making grants of public money for capital improvements we are bound to do everything we can to satisfy ourselves that the holding, when the money has been spent on it, will be economic and viable.
As to forestry, I heartily agree with what the Sub-Commission has said about its important task, particularly when it is closely integrated with agriculture. Hon. Members have made very relevant remarks about the importance of shelter belts and of timber being regarded as a crop. The Report recommends that there should be still closer co-ordination between the Forestry Commission, landowners and farmers. That view is entirely accepted by the Forestry Commission and the Government. Relations between the Forestry Commission and agriculture have been steadily improving of recent years. 1392 I was glad to hear the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Caernarvon to the Director of Forestry for Wales.
The extent to which forestry schemes can provide good, steady employment is at present underestimated. As we see national forestry gradually developing all over the country towards maturity, we receive encouraging evidence of the contribution that it can make to steady and healthy employment. We are anxious that there should be still closer co-operation between the Forestry Commission and agriculture, particularly at the county level. I know that view is shared by the Forestry Commission and by my county agricultural executive committees. Farmers should be aware of the plans and projects of the Forestry Commission for the forthcoming year in the counties. When once they understand what the Forestry Commission is trying to achieve there will be a better chance of contributions from both sides.
On the subject of roads, the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act was passed in December of last year, not in July. We have not wasted our time since then. There had to be inter-departmental discussions and quite prolonged discussions with the County Councils' Association. I am glad to say that those consultations and discussions are completed. We hope to send out a memorandum of guidance to local authorities.
One regret I am bound to express. Owing to the very severe restrictions on capital expenditure which the Government have found it necessary to impose since the date of that Act, we have not found it possible to approve the actual starting of schemes. We are anxious that local authorities should prepare their plans for any project and put in applications for grants. As far as we possibly can we will approve grants in principle.
I hope that well within the time of the Act—it provides for seven years—we shall find it possible not only to approve projects in principle, but to approve their actual starting and see them carried out. I repeat that we want to see that Act make a positive and practical contribution to the rehabilitation of the areas which we are discussing.
There have been provisional applications. The memorandum of guidance to local authorities, showing the terms and conditions, has not yet actually gone out, but I hope it will do so very shortly.
I want to refer to the very pleasant visit I paid to the investigation area a few months ago. Since I have been Minister, I have paid eight visits to the Principality. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am thinking of taking out a season ticket shortly, or of applying for naturalisation. The next time I go I will bear in mind what the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) said and will keep a close look out for the lack of postboxes.
When I went to the area I was very lucky. It was a wonderful day, with perfect weather. The skies were blue and the birds were singing. I believe that the Welshmen were singing, too. For a short time I wondered whether there was a problem at all, but very soon I saw there was a very formidable one.
This investigation area is well worth preserving and developing. I saw some good and well-farmed holdings which are economic units, and other land which is not being fully utilised under our present legislation. I am referring to common land. I am glad that the Royal Commission on Common Land has paid a visit to some of the area. I saw some examples of the improvement of hill farms under the Hill Farming and Livestock Rearing Acts, which were a pleasure to see. Public money in those cases is being used to good advantage.
But I also saw many problem farms that are really up against it because of too few acres, poor fertility, an alarming backlog of repairs to buildings, or just sheer remoteness. Some of the holdings I saw used to be part-time holdings and 1394 they are not going to be viable holdings for the future. I also saw instances where many of the recommendations made by the Sub-Commission are already happening. I am certain that the basic thing is that there should be a steady development of public services, properly co-ordinated.
I hope we shall not underestimate the rate of progress that has been made of recent years, as witness the figures that one of my hon. Friends quoted of grants that have been approved under improvement schemes, and the considerable total contributed under the production grants. I am glad that we have made a start with our experimental hill farm at Pwllpeirian—I am sorry for my pronunciation; that is as near as I can get it. We have very great hopes of that development, too.
I repeat once more that we are in no doubt whatever that the upland areas of Wales represent land which is well worth preserving and developing. We shall do our utmost to support the inhabitants of those areas by doing what we can to see that the areas support a vigorous and stable population in the future, and that there is a steady rehabilitation of farming.
I would have liked to say many other things. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will await the White Paper which will be published very shortly, and that they will share our view that we must do everything we possibly can to adopt a forward outlook. We must resolve to plan and develop those areas in a way which will enable them to stand up to the days that lie ahead.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Mid-Wales Investigation Report of the Welsh Agricultural Land Sub-Commission.