HC Deb 11 March 1964 vol 691 cc621-32

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

12.8 a.m.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

This debate takes place against a varied background of, first, Government evasion of responsibility for producing plans for Wales; secondly, a still too large total of unemployed; thirdly, the necessity of binding the Government, after 12½ years of majority rule, to produce specific proposals such as I asked on 6th February should be produced for South Wales. The failure of the Government and their unwillingness to take Wales into their confidence is morally indefensible. It is necessary and desirable that Wales should take a larger part in United Kingdom development.

The Tory Government, having been in power for 12½ years, and, in complete innocence of this being election year, brought to the notice of the Welsh Grand Committee, on 11th December last, five regional plans, two of which were for South Wales and Mid-Wales respectively in 1965. The Tories have evaded responsibility in this sense, that segmented planning for Wales would not be a success. Therefore, the allegation that I made about an election period is well-founded.

In the matter of unemployment, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs said, on 11th December: There is no dominating large-scale unemployment in Wales, or any dominating large-scale congestion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 11th December, 1963; c. 18.] I would draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that there are 27,527 wholly unemployed, an unemployment rate of 2.9 per cent. in Wales, as compared with 2 per cent. for the national average. Indeed, the question of young people securing employment as apprentices was clearly shown in all its difficulty when, in reply to a Question, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour yesterday said that in 1952 only 22 per cent. of boys secured apprenticeships but in 1963, after 12 years of Tory rule, it had in- creased by only 2.6 per cent., standing at 24.6 per cent.

Every unemployed person faces severe financial hardship and a catastrophic cut in the standard of living and loss of social life and amenity. Therefore, will the Government indicate the long and short-term proposals which they have in view? Wales is a nation in its own right and is entitled to be taken into the Government's confidence. There is no reason for the Government to be coy and evasive.

The Minister for Welsh Affairs will know that plans are in hand in the North-West and Scotland, whereas the Welsh proposals are still under consideration. The non-production of such a policy is indefensible. In the integration of the economy of Wales with that of the United Kingdom as a whole, there is a necessity for the specific dovetailing of a programme for industrial development, housing, transport, communications and amenities as parts of a single comprehensive plan.

In this context, I place once again before the Minister, as I did with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 8th April last year, the problem of the rehabilitation of derelict lands and the desirability a providing a 100 per cent. grant in aid for this purpose. This matter has peen raised by other hon. Members. In may constituency there is the Llansemlet—Landore area, which perhaps I may be pardoned for mentioning again. The Government should help the great efforts which are being undertaken by the Swansea Valley Project. The Minister for Welsh Affairs should watch the land sharks and speculators when sites suddenly increase in value and should make the position as desirable as possible for industry.

On the subject of transport, I wonder whether the Minister could say what schemes there may be in hand. Reference was made yesterday to a grant of £8 million for Welsh roads. I should like to know whether any of that money will be given to Welsh local authorities to assist in improving roads which will suddenly become heavy with the traffic of articulated lorries owing to rail closures. Will he provide any of this money for remedial efforts to enable these roads to be widened to withstand the passage of these heavy articulated lorries? This question will have to be faced in relation to rail closures and the problems which will follow.

On the question of amenity, I wonder whether the Government have any proposals for expanding tourism, particularly in North Wales, and whether the right hon. Gentleman could say when the committee will report on this matter. I understand that the committee is now meeting. We must not ignore the great benefit which holidays bring to many people. Will the Minister tell us what he intends to do about retaining essential rail services to the resorts of Wales? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what is the disparity in grant given to Wales as compared with that given to Scotland for the promotion of tourism?

The Government must do something to arrest depopulation. In 1951, the population of Wales was 2,599,000. Ten years later, it was 2,641,000, an increase of only 42,000. The decline of our basic industries is a vital factor here, and we want the Government to persuade industries to move to Wales. The loss of jobs has been described as disastrous. The estimated natural increase in the population of Wales over the next 25 years is 750,000. Have the Government any proposals for bringing in industries so as to provide secure prospects of employment and real hope for the future?

One immediate effect of such action would be seen in the retention at home of our young people, and this is of particular importance in the rural areas. As I said on an earlier occasion, agriculture, forestry, fishing, the chemical industry, metal manufacturing and mining are declining. In mining, for instance, employment has fallen from 115,000 in 1948 to 75,000 today.

The Government must do more to correlate public expenditure and private expenditure. In 1961, private capital investment in Wales totalled £124 million, and in 1962 it was only £96 million. This is a matter which deserves close attention.

Another way in which the Minister could show great faith in the future would be by considering, with his right hon. Friend, facilitating the extension of the industrial estate principle. We have an excellent industrial estate in Swansea, and I am sure that at Fforestfach every co-operation would be forthcoming for industrialists who decided to extend their interests there.

On a previous occasion, I asked how the Government proposed to apply science to industry in South Wales. They could work here in conjunction with the already large-scale developments of private industry, which must be known to the Minister. In speaking of the application of the techniques and lessons of science, I am thinking particularly of the National Engineering Laboratory, which undertakes sponsored research. Developments of this kind could be of great advantage in improving industrial processes in the great conurbations of the South Wales coastal belt. I favour Government extension of the principle of the National Engineering Laboratory undertaking sponsored industrial research.

There must be an integrated industrial plan for Wales. The days of haphazard and piecemeal planning are over. It is pointless and will be a failure. The plan for Wales should be joined to a comprehensive national plan. The battle for national economic solvency could get a great boost from the export drive of a prosperous coastal belt in South Wales and bring more trade benefits through expanding shipments from Swansea and the South Wales ports.

To suggest that a plan is not needed is to flout logic. The Welsh are a proud and adaptable people. They seek only the right to work. They want opportunities in all branches of industry. The agricultural worker, the engineering worker, the miner, the scientist, the technician and all others will be looking to the Government, who must produce plans. The Welsh people would like to see those plans before the election, so that they might consider them and vote upon them. If the Government are unable or unwilling to produce specific proposals, then they must realise that their position is untenable and make way for a Government who will recognise the situation and will produce legislation and policies which will enable Welsh men and women to live and work happily in Wales.

12.20 a.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

I agree with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. MacBride) that the absence of any plans for Wales at this stage is a serious indictment of the Governments that we have had for the last 13 years. Nevertheless, I am concerned that the plans now in train shall be good, well prepared and worth waiting for; for we have waited long enough.

I am not satisfied that the Economic Intelligence Unit at Cardiff is really large enough and sufficiently experienced for this job. If the Minister is preparing five plans for Wales and the first two are due out at the end of the year, or early next, is there sufficient staff at Cardiff in the unit to do the work?

Is there sufficient consultation between the Minister and the education and agricultural authorities, among others? Is there sufficient co-ordination? In Mid-Wales we have the enormous depopulation problem and young people are not having the technical education that they might be provided with. Is there sufficient joint consultation now, with regard to the development of the Mid-Wales plan, between the Minister of Education and the economic and agricultural authorities? I should like assurances on these aspects tonight.

12.22 a.m.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Sir Keith Joseph)

I am glad to have the chance to speak about the Welsh planning process which is in train. I remember recognising, very shortly after I became Minister for Welsh Affairs, that there was scope, now that the main bulk of public investment had made such a great difference to Wales, for preparing a more detailed plan to deal with the various problems of the different parts of Wales. I take great pride in the fact that it was while I was responsible as Minister for Welsh Affairs that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) announced the setting up of a reinforced Welsh Office with what was then called the Economic Intelligence Unit, and is now called the Research and Development Unit, to prepare such a plan.

But I am not sure that hon. Members opposite, particularly the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) have any right to speak as if they had been demanding development plans for so long. I remember that, in one Welsh Grand Committee the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), in a very good speech, put forward the idea that the Government had in mind—the setting up of the Welsh Planning Office. But the decision has been taken and the plans are being made.

My answer to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) is that the plans are being made by an inter-departmental team served by a special research section. If the section proves inadequate in numbers, it will be reinforced, but at the moment we have every prospect of producing the entire plan for Wales and its various parts—I almost said early next year, but certainly next year.

There is no longer reason to expect that we shall produce plans for South Wales and Mid-Wales before the others. There will be one plan which will incorporate the various necessary provisions to meet the different needs of the different parts of Wales.

Mr. Hooson

Does that mean that there has been a change of plan, and that there is to be one plan as opposed to the five separate plans that we previously envisaged?

Sir K. Joseph

I think that this may stem a little from my anxiety always to stress the different problems in different parts of Wales. I may have put it wrongly. It was never intended that there should be five separate plans There was to be one plan with five separate sets of problems dealt with within it. If I misled the House, it is my fault. We always had in mind that there should be, as it were, five plans within one. Perhaps that explains it best.

I had the fear that to get on with the most urgent jobs, that is, the particularly complicated needs of South Wales where the valleys are so close to such throbbing and pulsating prosperity, and the problems of mid-Wales, it might be necessary to deal with those two areas first. But now that the section is fully at work I am advised that it can deal with all five areas and bring out a comprehensive plan during the next year—and, I hope, fairly early next year.

This plan will be largely an assessment of the prospects, demographic, economic, industrial, commercial and for transport, over the next twenty years. We cannot hope—no one can—in this rapidly changing world, to get all our predictions right. Therefore, they will be kept under constant review, and will be reassessed on a moving basis, always looking twenty years ahead.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

Can the Minister say whether this plan will be published as a White Paper next year?

Sir K. Joseph

It is too early for the Government to commit themselves to the exact form in which the publication will be made. Next Thursday, as it happens, there will be published both the study of the South-East and the White Paper accompanying it. I cannot tell whether that will be the pattern for Wales. It is too early to say what the right pattern for issuing the results of our Welsh studies will be.

I was saying that we shall seek to predict all these trends forward and to draw from those trends the implications for where we need to forestall decline and where we need to cope with growing population. As hon. Members know, there is an added complication in that as industries increase and improve their productivity—as the coal mining and agriculture industries are doing at the moment—there is a need for extra work for the same number of people, and this is a healthy sign, provided that the extra work can be provided. It is that sort of implication which will be assessed and measured by the plan.

What are the instruments to deal with the things with which we wish to deal? First, there is the instrument of public investment in the public sector which, by being put in the right form in the right place at the right time, can guide and stimulate private enterprise also. It is this combined effect of the location of public investment and the stimulus this gives to private investment by which we hope, in a world which is changing intensely rapidly, to keep ahead of change. And again I stress the different problems in the different areas.

The hon. Member for Swansea, East spoke rather vehemently about unemployment. Unemployment in Wales is between 2.9 per cent. and 3 per cent. This is above the national average, but far less above the national average than in some other sections of the country where the need to eliminate unemployment is far sharper. The picture in Wales is that there is great prosperity over substantial parts of Wales with problem areas in the valleys, in Pembrokeshire, in Mid-Wales, in parts of North Wales, and, contingently, in Anglesey. We all know of the massive public investment that is going on—the world's biggest nuclear power station at Wylfa, the new power station in West Wales, the new chemical plant, the great new steel works and the car works. We all know that South Wales now represents a modern industrial complex on the European scale. Therefore, there is no longer a blanket problem. There are a number of sharp, individual problems which have to be solved.

I was glad the hon. Gentleman spoke of a number of these problems. He referred to depopulation. This follows from the increased productivity of agriculture. It is a sad by-product of a healthy trend.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

Not altogether.

Sir K. Joseph

It is a most significant factor.

Dramatic remedies are sometimes proposed—a new town, for instance, in Mid-Wales; but this would, it seems to me, have very serious disadvantages, as it would rapidly lose the very Welshness of the area, and secondly, it would drain the surrounding towns of their remaining life. I think that we have to operate in a very delicate way here. We are looking to the Beacham Report, which is, of course, to be published—the printing is taking a very long time, I fear. The Report is being studied by the research and development section as part of its material on the Mid-Wales section of the plan.

Meanwhile, the Government have, even while I have been involved, decided on a number of new advance factories, and at any stage we are always considering where further advance factories should be put. I lay great stress myself on the self-generating power of the new industries which Wales has now got. Wales now has modern industries, thriving industries, with dynamic management, and we are seeing Wales moving forward into a constantly more prosperous future in the areas where prosperity now is.

Our problem is a much more difficult one in the areas where there are still fairly sharp levels of unemployment, and that is why we must await the plan to deal with these difficult parts of our task. I do not believe that there is a single panacea for the remaining problems of Wales. There are a number of difficult decisions to be made, reconciling the desire of the people to stay in their familiar surroundings, preferably modernised and improved, and yet to have work which, on the whole, will need to go to areas which have a large market. We can mitigate the problem by advance factories, and these we have installed to a large number. There may need to be more.

We can also mitigate the problem by encouraging the tourist industry. I do not pretend that the tourist industry is a panacea in itself. It is not but; it is a help As I have warned people in Wales—I say it again now—unless Wales improves its services for tourism it will not hotel the tourists it now has. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) knows the almost passionate work that is going on now in the consideration of the reorganisation of the tourist industry. In answer to the hon. Member for Swansea, East, I can say that what I may call the Cole Working Party report has been submitted to the Welsh Tourist Board. We all know, with regret, that Dr. Huw T. Edwards has been ill for a while, but as soon as he is in action again I imagine that the Board will be considering that report. It is confidential at the moment, because it is a report to the Board, but I can say that Wales need have no reason to have to compare itself with any envy with Scotland when it comes to help to improve the tourist industry.

But the main work must come from the Welsh tourist industry itself, recognising the advantages of modern research to cope with the competition of modern tourist industries elsewhere, to hold, let alone to increase, the number of tourists and the income from the industry. It seems to me we owe a debt of gratitude to the Working Party for the job which it has done.

The hon. Gentleman spoke in passing of a number of other things—let me refer briefly to several of them. He referred to the importance of roads. We recognise that Wales at present gets far more per head of population spent on roads than is spent in England. Wales is doing well in getting its share of roads, and I think that hon. Members will note with pleasure the decision that has been taken to keep open the Central Wales railway line. Decisions about railway lines are taken by my right hon. Friend only after the most meticulous study, not only of the objections made through the T.U.C.C. but of all the other interests that his departmental colleagues—particularly, of course, in the case of Wales, I myself—put to him.

I think there is only one other major point made by the hon. Gentleman and that is the most difficult point of all—the application of science to a modern economy. That cannot be done by a broad-brush treatment. It has to be done by encouraging scientific research where it is most needed. That is the job of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, under my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. As the hon. Member knows, that Department has for some years had an office in Wales. It found the going rather hard in the early years, but the present position is that the D.S.I.R. in Wales is finding more encouraging use being made of its services, and the mutual assistance scheme that links all research institutions, public and private, under the umbrella of the D.S.I.R. is being applied to Wales.

The great industries in Wales are admirable in their research. I spent last Monday going round, and seeing with admiration the British Nylon Spinners' great plant at Pontypool, and learning that there are seven "pups" of that plant being built in seven other countries, some of them as big as or even bigger than that at Pontypool. This is really a dynamic industrial area, and the hon. Gentleman does no service to Wales in painting a picture universally grey when the scene is now bright in hue over most of the map, with singularly dark spots in individual areas, where particular problems may be very difficult to solve.

The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. T. W. Jones) and I know of the difficulty of bringing help to State industry, but I am in communication with the industry over some suggestions that have been made. We have to deal with individual problems in individual ways, and we shall continue to do this as actively as possible pending the production of the plans. We are not standing still until the plans are produced. Advance factories have been announced, further advance factories are being considered, and help given wherever it is practicable.

The great new power station at Pembroke and the great new station at Wylfa are going on and we have had the decision not to close the Central Wales railway line.

All these decisions are taken as necessary, but I hope that when the plan is produced next year it will enable us to bring even stronger weapons to bear to cure the few remaining problems that are left to be dealt with in Wales.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-two minutes to One o'clock.