HC Deb 04 December 1963 vol 685 cc1323-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

11.57 pm.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)

This Adjournment debate is in a sense a continuation of the larger debate on regional economic planning to which we listened earlier. I am raising the question of the need for a wholly new economic approach to the problems of a distinctive region or sub-region of Wales which the constituency of Caernarvon roughly covers. It is a region composed of the uplands of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula. In the past, the natural features of the area have dictated its industrial character. For centuries the mountains have provided work for slate and granite quarrymen in their thousands, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) earlier this evening. The richer soil of the peninsula has sustained a quite intensive agriculture.

However, during the past 20 years both these traditional industries have de- clined rapidly in respect of the number of jobs they offer. On the farms automation has proceeded at an impressive rate. We do not quarrel with that, except to say that it should be our responsibility to see that there is alternative employment for the men who are displaced by the machines in the countryside as well as in the town. The causes of the decline in the quarrying industry are more complex, but undoubtedly the main cause is the competition of alternative roofing material with slate and of cheaper road surfacing material with granite.

In 1913, there were about 13,000 slate quarrymen in North-West Wales. By 1939, the number had declined to 8,000, and today it is less than 3,000—probably as little as 2,500. The number of granite workers has fluctuated rather more, but the decline in that branch of the industry also has been rapid and almost without pause. It is exemplified by the fact that two centres of the industry in Trefor and Llithfaen had a total labour force of about 400 granite workers soon after the war but today employ only 145.

As the Parliamentary Secretary knows, the imminent closure of two more granite quarries at Cae'r Nant and Carreg-y-Llam means that this industry in South Caernarvonshire will next spring barely employ 80 or 90 men. It is the disappearance of a great industry in the area and with it, we fear, the disappearance of fine communities which that industry in the past sustained.

This would not be so alarming if new industry were coming in to make up for the decline of the old, but, unfortunately, this is not so. South Caernarvonshire has been a development district under the 1958 Act and the Local Employment Act, 1960, and a certain amount of new industry has come into the area since 1958. But it is far too little and almost too late.

We can test the position by examining two sets of statistics, the unemployment figures and the population returns. The Secretary of State for Industry and Trade, in reply to a Question of mine on 11th November, 1963, column 13 of Hansard, said that the percentage unemployment registered at the two employment exchanges principally concerned was: Caernarvon 4.8, and Pwllheli 5.6. This is three or four times the United Kingdom average, five years after our being scheduled as a development district.

The position is particularly serious in the Lleyn Peninsula, of which Pwllheli and Portmadoc are the centres. On 14th October there were nearly 400 unemployed registered in this district. The November figures were almost certainly higher, and in the spring they will be higher still, if the threat to close the Bangor—Afon Wen railway line materialises. Another 100 men and their families would then be thrown on the dole.

Nor is this the whole story. These figures, bad as they are, would be far worse but for the extensive emigration which has proceeded and is proceeding from the area. The population of Caernarvonshire is about 120,000, that is, a little less than it was 40 years ago. That means that the natural increase of at least 20,000 has been wiped out by emigration as a result of chronic unemployment.

The part of Caernarvonshire with which I am most concerned tonight has actually suffered a substantial decrease of population. According to the Registrar-General's reports, the population of Lleyn rural district was 20,304 in 1931. By 1961, it was down to 16,290, a decline of about 20 per cent. That is a positive, substantial decline.

This is the granite area. In the adjacent rural district of Gwyrfai, which is the slate area, the decline has been very similar in its causes, its extent and its results. The Parliamentary Secretary is entitled to say in reply that the resources of the 1960 Act are available to us. But something much more needs to be done if this area is to be properly revived. The hon. Gentleman will no doubt point with pride to the new advance factory now being built in Portmadoc. At least, he said this in a letter which he kindly sent to me on 14th October: When it was decided last year to build an advance factory at Portmadoc it was on the basis that the factory might help to relieve unemployment not only in Portmadoc itself but also in the Lleyn Peninsula on one side and in Blaenau Ffestiniog on the other. An extraordinary achievement for a small factory of 10,000 square feet!

How many people does the Parliamentary Secretary think a factory of that size will employ—50, 75, or 100 perhaps? The fact is that while this factory will make a welcome addition to the employment resources of the town of Portmadoc itself it can hardly affect the problem in places eight, 12 or 20 miles away. This is really spreading the butter so thinly that it practically disappears. In any case, this small factory comes into a district which will suffer acutely from the proposal which I have mentioned to close its railway line,

The Board of Trade gives us 10,000 square feet of factory space and Dr. Beeching proposes to take away 30 miles of railway line, and on balance we lose twice as many jobs as we gain. This is a small, local but striking example of the lack of coherence in the Government's planning in an area like this. We have been told that the Government have recently undergone a deathbed repentance on regional economic planning, but we are still to be convinced that this is a genuine conversion.

I should like, therefore, to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what his Department's intentions are in regard to Wales in general and in particular for hard-hit areas like South Caernarvonshire. There was a rather disquieting note in the debate earlier today when we learned that the new attention to be given to the north-east of England and to Central Scotland might mean that Wales might be pushed lower down the queue. If that happens the areas which will suffer are undoubtedly those like South Caernarvonshire. This is a case of the poor helping the poor. Has it occurred to the Minister and to the Department that it would be just as well to push London and the South-East a little lower down the queue and so give greater priority not only to the North-East and to Scotland, but also to Wales, and particularly areas like the one I have mentioned?

The Secretary of State for Industry and Trade said yesterday, when he opened the debate on regional planning: A study is in hand for Wales. Its general objective is to carry out a survey of the population and economic prospects over the next 20 years. On this we shall be able to base out plans for the: use of land and investment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1963; Vol. 685, c. 993.] I should like to ask a number of questions on that statement. Is it simply to be a study? Is there not to be a plan? Who is being consulted about this study? Are the local authorities of the development districts in North and South Wales being closely consulted about this study and about any plans that may emerge from it?

Will it include or lead to proposals for the revival of areas like the one I have described? Will it include a study of the present condition and future possibilities of the slate and granite industry? If regional planning is needed anywhere it is needed in regions like North-West Wales, where there are not only acute economic problems but considerable industrial possibilities, given the right approach. It is about possibilities as much as about problems that I want to talk as I bring my remarks to a close.

This is an area where not only new industry is needed in the interests of the people of the area, but where the most modern industry might well be located in the national interest—industries of research based on Government sponsored projects in the local university and technical college in Bangor, to the achievements of which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition paid such a striking tribute the other day in the House.

I want to emphasise that there are clear advantages in the area for industry of the very newest type. There are space and amenity of surroundings. There is a wide choice of approved sites. There is the necessary place for research, in nearby Bangor. There is a labour force with a high standard of education; 42 per cent, of our children receive the grammar school type of education. This is an area for Government initiative not only in the interests of the area itself, necessary as that is, but in the interests of the country as a whole.

At the moment, the greatest contribution of this part of Wales is to the congestion of English cities. We want to make a contribution to the expansion of Britain. In the past, our people have made such a contribution. Over 5 million houses in this country are roofed with Welsh slates. Hundreds of factories and public buildings are similarly roofed and they will stand the test of centuries. We want to make that kind of contribution to the second industrial revolution which is upon us,

12.12 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. David Price)

It is my duty to reply to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. G. Roberts), but it is also my pleasure because the hon. Gentleman is always very courteous in debate and also because I spent most of the year 1943 in his constituency, battle training round Snowdonia; and, in spite of the rather hostile reason for my being there, I became fond of his county.

The hon. Member emphasised the need for new industry in South Caernarvonshire, and I would like him to know that my Department and the Government agree that this need exists, so that there is nothing between us about the objective, though possibly we may differ a little about the means.

I should like to explain what we have done and what we are trying to do for the future. First, I would like to be clear on what we mean by South Caernarvonshire. The last time the hon. Member raised the problem of the industrial needs of this part of Wales, on 24th May, 1962, his speech covered the whole of Caernarvonshire. This time he speaks only about South Caernarvonshire. I think that he is right, because in the northern part of the county there has been substantial progress.

In the middle of the county—the Caernarvon group of employment exchanges—there has also been progress due mainly to the completion of the Ferodo factory, though of course there is still need for further new employment opportunities. None the less, there has been progress. It is in South Caernarvonshire that the greatest problem lies. Although there is no generally-accepted definition of "South Caernarvonshire", I take it to comprise the Lleyn rural district, the municipal Borough of Pwllheli and the urban districts of Criccieth and Portmadoc.

As the hon. Member observed, the population of South Caernarvonshire, as I have just defined it, was 25,800 at the 1961 census. At the previous census it was 27,800. Therefore, we see a decrease in population over those 10 years amounting to 5.3 per cent. This was experienced throughout South Caernarvonshire, with the single exception of Criccieth, and it was most pronounced in the Lleyn rural district. I therefore recognise:—there is nothing between the hon. Member and myself—that South Caernarvonshire has been experiencing depopulation.

In 1962, the working population of South Caernarvonshire amounted to 8,500 people. Of these, 6,900 were employed in what the Ministry of Labour term the service industries. There were only 785 people employed in manufacturing industry. There is, in fact, very little" manufacturing industry in South Caernarvonshire. For the record, I would add that 750 people were employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing. To complete the picture, the hon. Member will no doubt wish to have the latest figures on unemployment. In November—last month—in the Pwllheli group of employment exchanges, there were 483, or 5.6 per cent., wholly unemployed, comprising 352 males—that is, 7 per cent—and 131 females (3.7 per cent.).

These figures include 47 unemployed juveniles, which is slightly fewer than in the previous month, when overall unemployment was marginally lower. A year ago, in November, 1962, there were 591–7.4 per cent.—wholly unemployed, compared with 427–5.4 per cent.—in November, 1961, and there has been a slight improvement during 1963 when the average for the first 11 months of the year was 4.5 per cent, compared with 4.7 per cent, for the whole of 1962.

Mr. G. Roberts

Could the hon. Gentleman give the figures for emigration during that year?

Mr. Price

I am sorry, but they are not available. One can only give those on the censuses. Such figures are not collected and we have to rely on the 10-yearly census in order to arrive at changes in population.

The hon. Member asked what is the Government doing. As he knows, South Caernarvonshire has been scheduled since 1958, first as a D.A.T.A.C. area, and subsequently as a development district under the 1960 Act, and this means that any suitable firm which comes to South Caernarvonshire i is eligible for the full range of financial assistance under the 1960 and 1963 Local Employment Acts, and the 1963 Finance Act. The hon. Member also asked, quite fairly, why, if all these benefits are available, more firms have not come to South Caernarvonshire; but, as the House knows, these Acts are designed primarily to attract expanding industry to go to development districts. They do not compel industry so to go.

The plain fact is that it has been extremely difficult to interest manufacturing concerns in coming to South Caernarvonshire. They have considered the area too remote from their main markets and main sources of supply, too sparsely populated, and without any industrial tradition, and so on. I am sure that the hon. Member is as familiar with those arguments as I am. At the same time, I am glad to be able to report to the House tonight that this lack of interest in the area on the part of industrialists is beginning to change and I would like to give some figures in support of that contention.

Whereas, in 1961 and 1962, representatives of only three firms could be persuaded to visit even the Portmadoc area, during the past 12 months representatives of seven firms have visited the area out of a total of 37 firms to whom it was suggested by us as a suitable location. This change of attitude is in part due to the success of the Ferodo factory and, in part at least, due to the decision to build at Portmadoc an advance factory.

That factory is now about 60 per cent, complete, and is expected to be ready for occupation next March. It has been suggested to 31 industrialists, four of whom have visited the premises, although as yet no formal applications for the tenancy have been received. The factory has been advertised in the Board of Trade Journal, and the Board and the Industrial Estates Management Corporation for Wales will continue to bring it to the attention of industrialists. If a tenant was found who required a larger factory, we would be prepared to consider an immediate extension.

Interest in advance factories increases as they get nearer to completion, and there are good prospects that a tenant will come forward by the time this factory is ready. We shall continue our efforts to attract new industry to South Caernarvonshire and, as I have already said, prospects of doing so in the future seem to be somewhat improved. Yet it would be wrong to suggest that we should ever be able to attract any but small, or possibly moderate-scale units, not only because of the area's geographical position, but also because there are few centres where a labour force of any size could be assembled. Our best hopes for this part of Caernarvonshire must continue to rest in the advance factory at Portmadoc.

I have mentioned figures for the northern part of the county. Indeed, in Caernarvonshire as a whole, there has been considerable industrial development during the last 3½ years. Between 1st April, 1960, and 31st October 1963, we issued industrial development certificates for 15 schemes, estimated to provide employment for nearly 2,500 workers. Six of these schemes have been completed—of those, of course, the new Ferodo factory is the most sensational—while three are under construction. We are also, as we have already announced, to build another advance factory at Bethesda, near Bangor, in North Caernarvonshire. Construction has not yet started, but we have acquired the site, and we have already suggested it to 15 firms, two of whom have visited the locality.

I recognise that South Caernarvonshire has not benefited directly from these developments, but there is no doubt that they have been of marginal assistance, and in the northern and central parts of the county we can point to actual achievement. I would also remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade told the House yesterday that the Government are carrying out a survey of the Welsh economy which will, of course, include many of the considerations with regard to depopulation, and the like, which the hon. Member has raised this evening. He will not expect me to anticipate them because one does not announce reports before they are ready; but the problems of South Caernarvonshire, along with those of North-West Wales as a whole, will feature in this survey and will, I hope, feature fairly prominently.

The hon. Member might well have urged us, as he has done previously, to build another advance factory in the Lleyn Peninsula. We hope that the advance factory at Portmadoc will relieve unemployment not only in Portmadoc itself, but also in the surrounding area, including Pwllheli, but we recognise that its value will be greatest in Portmadoc itself. In any case, until the Portmadoc factory is let, and the local market for factory space has been tested, it would probably be unwise to undertake further advance building in this area.

Nevertheless, I would remind the hon. Member of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday—that a further programme of advance factory building is now under consideration and that he hopes to make an announcement about this soon. I can assure the hon. Member that the claims of South Caernarvonshire will, of course, be considered along with other parts of the country. I cannot go further tonight.

I should point out that there are fields of employment which can be expanded in South Caernarvonshire other than in manufacturing industry. The holiday industry is an obvious one. This year employment at the Pwllheli Holiday Camp reached a record level. If this could be done in the sort of summer we had this year it should be possible for the holiday trade to expand a good deal further in South Caernarvonshire.

The hon. Member referred to the concern felt over the closure of the granite quarries in the Lleyn Peninsula. Granite has been a declining industry, but I cannot go into details on that tonight. I understand that the Rivals Quarry, at Llithfaen, closed on 22nd October, but only four of the 22 men employed there have been registered as unemployed. As yet, none of the 30 men made redundant by the closure of the Carreg-y-liam Quarry on 22nd November has registered as unemployed, but it is known that four have found other work.

While the fears of substantial additions to the register on account of these redundancies have thus proved groundless, we recognise that the closures do represent the loss of some employment opportunities in future.

The future of granite quarrying in South Caernarvonshire is largely a matter of cost of production and of market demand. It is also a question of transport costs. This is particularly important when considering the importance of granite in road building.

The slate industry in North Wales has been much affected by the development of alternative and cheaper materials, and manpower continues to decline. I understand, however, that positive steps are being taken by the leaders of the industry to increase productivity and increase their sales. New methods and modern machinery are being introduced and this may secure the industry against any further sharp decline. The North Wales industry would be eligible for grants under the Local Employment Acts.

The hon. Member referred to his right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition's suggestion, in the debate on the Address, that a new electronics industry might be based on the University College at Bangor. Although that is in the north of the county, which goes a little wider than the subject of this debate, this is a very interesting suggestion, and I fully recognise that the college has a fine record in this field. But, equally, I do not want to arouse false hopes either in the hon. Member or his constituents, and I must tell him that I have found from hard experience, in trying to per- suade industrialists in electronics to move to development districts in other parts of the country that, more than virtually any other industry, the electronics industry appears to depend on external economies which can only be obtained in a really large-scale industrial complex. If I had time I would go into more detail, but I have not. Nevertheless, we stand ready to give assistance to any suitable electronics firm minded to site itself near the college and we would be very happy to see an electronics firm go there.

In conclusion, although, up to now, we have not achieved very positive results in South Caernarvonshire, there has been good progress in the northern part of the county. Furthermore, we are building the advance factory at Port-madoc. This should be not only the symbol of more development in South Caernarvonshire, but the actual genesis of such development. This should assure the hon. Member that the Government have not forgotten South Caernarvonshire, and I sincerely hope that it will represent for the people the genesis and not a continued exodus.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Twelve o'clock.