HC Deb 24 May 1962 vol 660 cc825-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

10.45 p.m.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

I am glad to have this opportunity to raise once more the subject of employment in Caernarvonshire, and I particularly wish to press the case of the southern half of the county, including the Lleyn Peninsula and towns such as Pwllheli and Portmadoc.

The Minister is well aware of the agonising unemployment which has been the lot of this county for more than a quarter of a century. The results of this are reflected in two sets of figures which were brought to my notice the other day. In 1911 the population of Caernarvonshire was 119,000. Today it is still 119,000. This means that the natural increase which one would conservatively put at about 35,000 to 40,000 in that period has been wiped out by emigration arising out of long-term chronic unemployment.

It is true that in the post-war years things improved. Our population went up to 124,000 by 1951, but many things happened in that year, the most ominous being the advent of the party opposite to power, and the slide began again. From 1951 onwards we faced another decade of decline.

The other set of figures I would put to the Parliamentary Secretary shows that the rateable value of the county in the last few years has remained static. Comparing like with like—that is, 1956 with last year—we find that while five years ago our rateable value was £1,483,038, today, five years later, it is only about £1,000 higher. That means that fewer and fewer people are bearing increased rate burdens.

The key to the revival of the county is, of course, employment. It is the decline in opportunities for work that has driven our young people away and reduced the social and economic strength of the area. For centuries our people depended on two heavy industries —agriculture and quarrying. More machines on the farms has meant fewer farmworkers. And the advent of cheaper, though inferior, roofing materials has meant rapid contraction of our slate and granite quarries.

The answer, which we have repeatedly urged on the Government for many years, is the introduction of new industries. I am glad to say that now, at last after years of agitation, a great new modern factory has established itself in my constituency. I refer to the Ferodo factory near Caernarvon which is already employing 500 men, a number which we hope in time will be doubled. That is a boon to a long-suffering area. The coming of this excellent firm to the Caernarvon-Gwyrfai district has transformed our prospects. Nevertheless, the situation in South Caernarvonshire, about which I wish particularly to speak, is causing us great and growing anxiety.

We have to expect that next winter the level of unemployment in South Caernarvonshire, in the peninsula itself, will be greater than ever, ranging from 7 to 9 per cent., or even perhaps 10 per cent., of the insured population. By that time, the nuclear power station at Trawsfynydd, in the neighbouring county of Merioneth, will be completed, and many South Caernarvonshire men who now work there will again be thrown on the dole. It is possible—we hope it will not happen—that the present insensate and indiscriminate closures of local railway branch lines also will throw upwards of 100 men out of work in that area.

My plea tonight is that the methods which admittedly have resulted in the establishment of a fine new industry in Caernarvon should be employed to achieve similar results at the southern end of the county, in the Portmadoc area and Pwllheli.

It is likely that the same old objections to introducing new modern industry to North-West Wales will again be heard. It will be said, for instance, that such industry will spoil the natural beauty of the peninsula, as if derelict cottages, dwindling villages, and school-leavers with no hope of work are beautiful to behold. I hope that the Board of Trade will resolutely set its face against such a sterile argument. The fine new factory in Caernarvon is itself a refutation of it. It takes its place naturally against the magnificence of Snowdon. It adds to the beauty of the scene and enriches a deeper beauty, the lives of the people.

There is the second objection, with which we are painfully familiar, the objection that North-West Wales is too far from the raw materials and markets on which modern industry depends. On this point, I cannot do better than quote from the impressive speech delivered at the opening of the new factory in Caernarvon by Mr. R. G. Soothill, chairman of Turner and Newall, of which Ferodo is, of course, a unit. He said: The establishment of industry away from the traditional concentrations of production has been, in our experience, entirely successful. Its further development, in appropriate cases, cannot fail to strengthen the economy of the United Kingdom, and we are happy to feel that this new venture takes a worthwhile place among the current attempts to achieve a more balanced location of industry. If anybody still doubts the suitability of the labour which we can provide, let me once more quote the words of this distinguished industrialist. Speaking of the success of the Caernarvon factory, he said: Much is due to the enthusiasm of our Welsh recruits and the speed with which they have adapted themselves to wholly unfamiliar routines. The labour is, in fact, not only suitable: it is enthusiastic. It is also available. In the Pwllheli-Portmadoc district, there is a pool of at least 500—possibly 600—men on whom to draw, not to mention the hundreds who, working in far away towns, would be delighted to return to man the new factories, and, I would add, to man the choirs, the churches and cultural societies which are the pride of this part of Wales.

The sites for new industry also are available. The county council has seen to that. Two of these sites are former Air Ministry and War Department properties, which are fully serviced with electricity, water, sewerage, roads and extremely useful buildings. I refer, of course, to Penrhos and Llanberis. There is a slight difficulty about Llanberis, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can help us.

The county council wishes to buy the site and has offered the price which the district valuer has stated, and twice reiterated, to be the true and fair one. The Air Ministry, however, demands a price almost three times as much, and unless that Department gets the price, it will put up the property for auction. If this happens, the site may well be developed in bits and pieces by speculators instead of being developed as a unit, as a small trading estate, under the central direction which only a body like the county council can provide. I hope that the Parliament Secretary will look closely into this matter and see whether he cannot assist us by using his good offices with the Air Ministry to achieve a workable and useful compromise whereby our county council can move in the matter.

Still on the subject of sites, we have understood for some time that a light engineering firm has been keenly interested in a site a few miles outside the town of Pwllheli, but there are disturbing rumours that the hon. Gentleman's Department is tending to discourage the firm from coming to the area or, at least, withholding practical support from it. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can reassure me about this. It would be a cruel blow to an area which has suffered far too much for far too long if a reputable firm which is anxious to come into the district were turned away through lack of official encouragement. It would certainly make nonsense of the fact that South Caernarvonshire is scheduled as a development district under the Local Employment Act, 1960.

I now turn briefly to the need to encourage existing industry in the county. First, the slate industry. This industry has peculiar difficulties which drive up its costs in comparison with those of prefabricated materials, and yet it is nationally necessary. Hon. Members may be familiar with a recent report which states that a large number of houses built since the war are seriously deficient and in need of substantial repair. This is one of the consequences of the short-sighted policy of using cheap and inferior materials, especially for roofing—a policy partly forced on builders and local authorities by the high interest policy of the Government. Then, there was the crisis earlier this year when the North of England was ravaged by heavy storms, resulting in an emergency demand for slate which the industry, in its inevitably contracted state, found the greatest difficulty in providing.

We have 5 million houses roofed with slate. If the industry is allowed to decline and even to disappear, the country as a whole will suffer. The capital cost of re-roofing those 5 million houses with any other roofing material would be colossal. Surely, this must make the future of the industry, small as it is in comparison with other industries, a matter for central Government attention.

I have time to mention only one other industry in the county—the dairy industry—although a good deal could be said about forestry and tourism. South Caernarvonshire is a land flowing, with milk. The honey, presumably, will follow if the Parliamentary Secretary has carefully followed what I have said.

May I give one example of what can he done to encourage the dairy industry. Thirty years ago our farmers got together and set up a co-operative creamery to deal with the cascade of milk that flows from our farms. It was an extremely successful venture and the Committee followed an enlightened policy of ploughing back profits. About five years ago it spent £50,000 on new cheese-making machinery. Unfortunately, the Milk Marketing Board then refused them a permanent allocation of milk for cheese making and the result is that for many months of the year the machinery lies idle while great quantities of milk are transported at great expense from the locality to more fortunate creameries in other parts of the country.

The employment aspect of this is very important to us. During the flush period, that is during the summer months, with an intake of about 22,000 gallons a day, we employ about 130 men. But in October we shall be down to 3,000 gallons a day and about 20 to 30 men will lose their jobs. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will look at this point too. It has its employment aspect, and I put it to him as one of the Ministers responsible for employment.

That is the two-fold solution to our long-standing chronic problem of unemployment—the introduction of new industries and encouragement and support for existing ones. The fine new factory outside Caernarvon has encouraged us in the county to think that we may be facing a brighter and better period, and any credit which is due to the hon. Gentleman for that good beginning I most freely give, but let him not weary of well doing almost as soon as he has started.

11.2 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts) for the way in which he concluded his remarks, but I regret the way in which he began them. I think that whatever Government had been in power we would have seen this tendency for people to leave the countryside, which has been pretty common all over Western Europe at any rate, and also, I think, in North America.

I rejoice with the hon. Gentleman at the opening of the new Ferodo factory at Griffiths Crossing. I saw it from the outside in the course of its construction, and I noted from the Guardian of 16th May that it hoped to recruit up to 830 men in due course.

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman in his fears for the future of those at present employed in Trawsfynydd power station, but I think that he probably overestimates the effects in the nearer future. I understand that the second reactor is not due to be completed until May, 1964, although a reduction in employment on the site may start in the course of this summer.

The hon. Gentleman's main concern tonight has been about the unemployment that may result in South Caernarvonshire next winter and thereafter. I agree with him that there can be no question but that it is possible nowadays to plan industry in such a way that it does not detract from the beauty of the countryside, and I agree with what he said about the fact that in these more spacious places with beauty around one gets better working conditions, and that where labour is available it will probably stay available. There is less turnover of labour, and this represents a great reduction in costs. I wish that more of our industrialists would realise that one of their greatest costs is the turnover of labour, and the fact that they have to train and re-train men year after year. If they could hold their labour force and treat it well, in happy surroundings and good conditions, as happens in some of the remoter places, their costs would be much reduced.

In existing circumstances it has been difficult to interest prospective industrialists in South Caernarvonshire, but I can tell the hon. Member that it is not for lack of trying. He will be interested to know—although it may not sound a great deal—that in Caernarvonshire as a whale, in the last twelve months, 14 sites and five buildings were suggested to 26 industrialists, 16 of whom either came themselves or sent representatives to see them. Only one has within this period set up in the county, and I regret to tell the hon. Member that it was not in his constituency. I agree that sites are available.

I should like to lay the disturbing rumours, to which the hon. Member referred, about Portmadoc. I do not agree for an instant that the Board of Trade has been withholding practical support. I am assured that the Controller for Wales went personally to a great deal of trouble to interest this firm in the site, and that he took the representatives out to see for themselves. We should have been delighted if the firm had decided to go through with the suggestion, but we must always remember that the final decision whether or not to go to a place finally rests with the firm.

The hon. Member also mentioned other sites, in particular the site at Llanberis. According to my information he exaggerated the difference between the valuation placed on this ex-R.A.F. depot by the district valuer and that placed on it by the distinguished independent valuer who was called in because of the disagreement on valuation between the Air Ministry's valuer and the county council's valuer. Over a long period, unfortunately, it has not been possible to agree on a price between the Air Ministry and the county council. It was hoped that by calling in this independent valuer a solution could be reached. As that is not so, and the county council has felt unable to accept the valuation, I am informed by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air that he feels there is no alternative but to put the value of the property to the test by public auction.

Mr. Roberts

The independent valuer appointed by the Air Ministry made no valuation of his own. All he said was that it should be put up for auction. He has made no suggestion which we can accept.

Mr. Macpherson

That is not the information that I have received, but we are both working with second-hand information on this point, and perhaps we should leave the question there. Certainly there is no doubt that we should like to see this site put to good use. We regard it as a pity that it has not been possible to do this sooner.

The hon. Member referred to one of the traditional ploys of this part of Wales, namely, slate quarrying. He carried out an excellent advertising campaign for slate this afternoon, and there is a great deal in what he said. I understand that, broadly speaking, about three-quarters of the slate produced is produced to repair houses and only one-quarter for new houses. The demand must come from those whose responsibility it is to keep their houses in repair. It would be extremely difficult for the Government to intervene on this, although any slate enterprise is in the same position as any other enterprise in a development district in that it can apply for assistance to expand if it wishes.

I was shown a photograph taken from the Liverpool Daily Post showing the hon. Gentleman on a visit to the site of the new Dinorwic Quarry, which I understand is using labour saving devices and shows great signs of progress. I am told that there is a much better feeling in slate circles about the future. Deliveries in the first three months of this year have exceeded those in the same period last year. That is a welcome development because there has been a tendency to run down for so long. We can only hope that it is an ill wind, or even an ill hurricane, that blows nobody any good and that as a result of what happened in the Midlands last year people will pay more attention to the necessity to maintain supplies of slate.

I do not think the hon. Gentleman would expect me to say much about the Caern Co-operative Creamery. It goes outside my departmental responsibilities. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman himself debated this in the House within the last year with my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. As to the honey, that is a matter for the bee rather than for me.

To summarise, the Government's development of industry policy will continue to be directed primarily to helping development districts, of which the hon. Gentleman's constituency forms part. The rate of industrial growth in Wales in the past two years was higher than in Great Britain as a whole. Wales obtained 8 per cent. of the total additional employment estimated to arise from industrial development certificates issued, although her share of the insured population of Great Britain engaged in manufacturing industry is only 3.5 per cent. That shows that the distribution of industry policy which we are following is not without result. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that we would like to see it having greater results in his part of the world, and I can assure him that we will continue to do all we can to that end.

Question put and agreed to

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes past Eleven o'clock.