HC Deb 12 April 1965 vol 710 cc1097-119

10.20 p.m.

Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Secretary of State for Wales and Minister of Land and Natural Resources Order, 1965 (S.I., 1965, No. 319), dated 26th February, 1965, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th March, be annulled. I am glad to be able to start talking about this Order tonight at a rather earlier hour than I did a week ago. My hon. Friends and I were a little suspicious when we saw that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) had an Order earlier on the Order Paper, and for a moment we thought that perhaps he would follow the procedure adopted by his hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) in what he said last week. But the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, with his customary brevity, even on such a matter as Sunday cinematograph entertainment, allowed this debate to take place tonight.

Last Monday, I referred shortly to the parentage and origin of the Order against which we are praying. I will not repeat what was said on 16th December in the Welsh Grand Committee on the subject, but let it be quite clear that what was promised by the Labour Party in "Signpost to the New Wales" was a Secretary of State with far wider powers than those given by the Order. Hon. Members opposite may care to re-read the pledges which they then gave and then read again the Order, complicated as it is. I acquit the Secretary of State. I am sure that he believed, when this policy was being produced, that he could get more responsibility from the Prime Minister. He certainly wants more, he would not deny that. Indeed, he said on 16th December last, when summing up in the Welsh Grand Committee: Those are the responsibilities to be transferred. I regard them as a very good beginning."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 16th December, 1964; c. 12.] His hon. Friend the Minister of State, referring to the powers included in the Older in a speech on 3rd April at Coleg Harlech, obviously designed to coincide with what should have been our debate last Monday, said: The basis of devolution is, however, local government and that is what we took over first. The Secretary of State has been only partially successful, but it is clear that he is not satisfied with the sum total of the powers to be transferred to him under the Order, for again in the Welsh Grand Committee he said: It may be a matter of interest that I begin with more executive responsibilities than the Secretary of State for Scotland had when he began."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 16th December, 1964; c. 13.] His appetite is large, and I therefore ask whether he looks upon the Order we are discussing only as a beginning.

I come to the details of the Order and, in regard to the Fire Services Act, 1947—a Measure which was amended in 1959 and which we find under the transferred functions on page 5 of the Order—I have made inquiries about most of the Acts to be transferred under the Order and have found that this Act was introduced by the Home Office and is still the responsibility of that Department. Why has it come in a list of functions to be transferred from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government?

We see in paragraph 4(b) that the Secretary of State acquires land responsibilities from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in so far as land bought by the Forestry Commission and found to be more suitable for agriculture goes to him by virtue of his new forestry responsibilities. Here, then, we have a situation in which some agricultural land in Wales is to be administered by the Secretary of State, but that the majority will be administered by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Is this a sensible arrangement?

What is to be done about grants for these holdings? Will they be administered by the Secretary of State and included in the Welsh Vote or by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? After all, forestry in Wales has now become an extremely important industry. When considering this matter, does the Secretary of State, with his knowledge of the importance of co-ordination of farming and forestry in Wales—and with the good history that we have behind us in terms of co-operation—think that this new arrangement will lead to ease of administration and the avoidance of friction? Is he certain that the transfer of this function is a wise one?

Next, in paragraph 6 of the Order we read of joint responsibilities over access to the countryside. The Secretary of State has these joint responsibilities with the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, whom we are glad to see in his place. How will this joint responsibility operate? To consider a rather extreme example, Offa's Dyke, is this a responsibility of the Secretary of State or of both Ministers and, in the event of any, shall I say, further building of Offa's Dyke—not that that should be necessary—would it be done by the one Minister and on his Vote, or by both?

The Minister has powers to vary the provisions of subsections (3), (4) and (5) of Section 46 of the Housing Act, 1964, which is referred to on page 7 of the Order, but although powers under the Act are transferred to the Secretary of State, Section 46(7) is specifically excepted under the Order. In other words, the Secretary of State cannot vary its provisions. How many more of these money-fixing powers have been specifically withheld from the right hon. Gentleman under the Order?

One of the right hon. Gentleman's most important functions is that he takes over water resources and conservation. Am I right in thinking that the Welsh river Usk, rising in Wales and flowing through Wales to a Welsh estuary, is to be treated differently from what I would describe as the Anglo-Welsh river Wye, which rises in Wales, flows through England and enters the sea in a Welsh estuary? The Welsh river presumably will be administered by the Secretary of State while the Anglo-Welsh river is the joint responsibility of the Secretary of State and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. Will this lead to simplicity of administration, and does it make sense of what we describe as dynamic administration in this country?

Mr. David Webster (Weston-super-Mare)

My hon. Friend has described what I had always thought to be the Bristol Channel as a Welsh estuary. It is with great hesitation that I interrupt him, but will he correct me if I am wrong in assuming that the planning authority in the case of a structure erected on the north shore of this Welsh estuary, that is to say a jetty into the Bristol Channel, would be, under this Order, the Secretary of State for Wales, and the area which would be adversely affected would be the other side of the Welsh estuary in Somerset, about which my hon. Friend and I are greatly concerned?

Mr. Gibson-Watt

My hon. Friend, as usual, puts his finger on one of the problems which the right hon. Gentleman will have to answer. As to whom the estuary belongs, I should have thought it was a question on which side one lived. My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the land where the jetty is to be built comes under the planning authority of Wales and therefore under the Secretary of State. The jetty itself—I would hope the right hon. Gentleman would confirm—is a matter of some doubt.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

Can the hon. Member put his finger on the case of the Tweed? Is it in Scotland or in England?

Mr. Gibson-Watt

With great respect to the hon. Member, I was brought up to think in the House that one should try to deal with matters in an Order and not those outside it. I hope he will forgive me if I do not follow him in that argument.

I understand that the Secretary of State will have full responsibility for water resources and conservation, except for hydrometric schemes, which I am told are water researches, and the money to be found for them. These still remain the responsibility of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources.

We can see this sort of situation developing. The Minister of Land and Natural Resources inquires and finds large water potentialities in Wales, and as we know, water is badly wanted by many towns not only in Wales but in England, too. He takes his right hon. Friend by the elbow into the Lobby and says to him, "My right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government is in a bit of a spot over water for a certain town in the middle of England. I have discovered water in the Principality, for which you are responsible". I am sure that a difficult situation will arise, one Minister asking for water, one having found it in the Principality, and the Secretary of State for Wales being in the unenviable position of having to decide whether he gives it or withholds it.

Water is dynamite in Wales. [Laughter.] It has been shown to be dynamite for a very long time. I see that right hon. and hon. Members associate dynamite and water in a different context of argument. All I can say is that I understand that there is now a Bill going through the House which will make it illegal to use dynamite in river waters. When I say that water is dynamite in Wales, I mean that it quite obviously tugs at the heart-strings and sentiments of the people living in the valleys which are in danger.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), when Minister for Welsh Affairs, had to face this difficult problem over Tryweryn, and, in the face of deadly opposition, he acquitted himself extremely well and went far to mitigate the severity of the change for a particularly beautiful part of Wales; but he was also Minister of Housing and Local Government and had a full Department behind him. Therefore, he had control of both sides of the problem. In our view, this was a definite advantage.

The water problem is, perhaps, one of the most important subjects covered by the Order, but planning also will produce problems which will have to be solved. Under the system which worked under the Conservative Government, planning appeals were dealt with by the Minister of Housing and Local Government either in Cardiff or in London, depending on which side of the Border the appeal came from. But they were dealt with by the same Minister. That is the point. Now, however, a curious system will evolve. To take an example familiar to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins), the Secretary of State will deal with planning appeals coming from Hay on Wye in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but one from Cusop, just over the border and in my constituency of Hereford, will be dealt with differently. Appeals from Hay on Wye will go to Cardiff, but appeals from Cusop will go to London. They will be dealt with by different Ministers.

Is there not a danger that decisions will be made by these two Ministers which will differ on virtually identical problems, and will there not grow up a body of case law which will make the law of England different from the law of Wales? Until this Order, it was one of the great features of our system that the law of England was the same as the law of Wales. As matters develop, will not people who live either one side or the other of a brook, stream, river or mountain range think the whole thing rather ridiculous as the mountain of differing law is built up? Quite frankly, I do not think that this is a very sensible piece of administration.

Will the right hon. Gentleman, who has been largely responsible for these changes, and largely responsible for carrying his party with him and for creating this Transfer of Functions Order, look at the problems of which we have given him only a few examples because of the limitation on our time, and will he look at the period ahead as one of experiment? We have an open mind on the matter, and we and indeed the country will judge on how the system works. If it produces good administration, the whole country will be behind it. If, on the other hand, experience shows that it leads to bad administration, will the right hon. Gentleman and his friends be big enough and long-sighted enough to realise that amendment may be necessary and, if it proves necessary, will he amend it?

On 16th December last, in the Welsh Grand Committee, the right hon. Gentleman said: We are an old nation for whom the imponderables mean much."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 16th December, 1964; c. 10.] I agree, but we are also a nation young at heart and intolerant of administrative inefficiency. If this Transfer of Functions Order produces administrative inefficiency, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that we and the Principality as a whole will be behind him if he decides to change his mind. Will he assure us tonight that he will give these changes a chance to prove themselves to the satisfaction of the Welsh people? If they work efficiently, all well and good; if not, may we hope that he will think again? For the new Wales will recognise and honour those who use their heads as well as their hearts.

10.43 p.m.

Mr. Simon Wingfield Digby (Dorset, West)

We are discussing Order No. 319, which contains no fewer than 18 pages and is extremely complicated and by no means easy to follow. Nor would I hazard a guess as to what its long-term effects will be. One has the impression that there has been a whip round Whitehall to find functions for two new Ministries, and I do not think that the contributions have been very generous. My object in intervening is to speak about Article 4, which relates to forestry. I am sorry that so little attention has been paid to these ohanges, which are quite important.

The position of forestry in Scotland remains unchanged. Few of us complain of that, because it has worked extremely well in the past, but in England and Wales we find that forestry is being taken from the Ministry of Agriculture and transferred, not to one but to two new Ministries—the Department for Wales and the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. My first comment is that there is quite a case for keeping forestry considerations in the same Ministry—the Ministry of Agriculture—because whether we put land to agriculture or to forestry is something that can well be discussed in one Department, particularly at a time like the present, when many small woodlands are tending to be reclaimed from forestry for agriculture.

There is an old saying that no man can serve two masters, but we are now asking rather a lot of the Forestry Commission in asking it to serve no fewer than three masters. When we look at the figures for woodland in the three countries, it is very noticeable that the forestry areas in England and Wales together are only roughly equivalent to those in Scotland.

The Commission's area in 1961 was, for England, 734,000 acres; for Scotland no less than 1,453,000 acres; and for Wales 357,000 acres. When we come to the area of private woodland, managed under approved or dedicated schemes, we find that England and Scotland both had over 300,000 acres but Wales only 34,000. There is much the same position with planting figures.

It will be seen at once that the area in Wales is comparatively small, and, indeed, that even in England it is small compared with the Scottish figure. Yet the Commission, in its activities, will have to look to three masters. Under a Government who talk so much about national planning, it is a little illogical that we should be asked to have three different masters for our forestry operations. There seems to be a danger, to say the least, that there will not be proper co-ordination. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will deal with this point.

From something that I criticise I pass to something which I regard as good. Under the Order I gather that there will be a new position whereby the two new Ministries—the Welsh Office and Land and Natural Resources—will each have a senior adviser on forestry matters. In the Ministry of Agriculture the Minister himself alone was responsible and he drew all his advice on forestry from the Commission itself. That situation has often been criticised in the past because it was felt that the Commission was judge and jury. It was criticised in an Estimates Committee's Report in 1962, and certainly it has been criticised elsewhere over the years. It is to the good that these two new Ministries, whether they be too many or not, should be able to address themselves as Ministries to the problems of forestry—the kind of planting we should have and what kind of land it is desirable to lay down for forestry.

There is a further point which seems to me to be good but on which I should like reassurance. Will this new plan mean that in England and Wales there will be direct access to the Minister responsible by both the Forestry Committee of Great Britain and by the Federated Home Timber Associations? It has been a grievance in the past that they did not have direct access to the Minister of Agriculture except through the Commission.

These are all the observations I wish to make at this stage. It is a pity that we do not hear more about forestry in the House. The important statement on this subject was left to Lord Mitchison in another place. I hope that the Government will show more interest in forestry in future. I hope that they will be careful to see that the fact that the Commission is to come under three Ministers will not lead to lack of co-ordination. Above all, I hope it will not mean that the voice of forestry in Whitehall is weakened and that when it comes to arguing with the Treasury the Treasury will play off one Minister against another. I hope that all three Ministers will plead the cause of forestry, which is an important one, particularly for the underpopulated areas where very valuable employment can be created in this way.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)

The Order came into force on 1st April, this year. The Prayer is signed by three hon. Members opposite, but it is singularly strange that the opposition to the Order comes not from Wales but from England. There is not a Conservative Welsh Member who has signed the Prayer. 1 have the honour to represent a constituency in Wales from which we reject the Conservatives time after time. I wonder how the right hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Peter Thomas) feels in glorious isolation on the Opposition Front Bench.

I have not heard that formal annexation articles have applied to Gloucestershire, South from the Principality, nor that we have yet stretched to Crosby. When the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) was speaking, and we all respect him, I thought that he was speaking with his tongue in his cheek because, although Hereford is contiguous to Wales, it is not part of the Principality and therefore the hon. Gentleman has no status. Therefore, the opposition to the Order has no basis in reality and is synthetic in the extreme. It illustrates the poverty of argument and the poverty of ability of Conservative Members who represent Welsh constituencies in that none of them is a signatory to the Prayer or has been selected to speak in its support. I hope that, although they are missing the Welsh people will realise the poverty of their representation.

The Order is acceptable to the whole House with the exception of this handful of English Opposition Members.

Mr. F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South) rose——

Mr. McBride

No, I am sorry. The Order sets the seal——

Mr. Gibson-Watt

The Order embraces not only the transfer of functions to the Secretary of State for Wales but the transfer of functions to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. That is why I said that we were very glad to have the right hon. Gentleman with us tonight.

Mr. Peter Thomas (Conway) rose——

Mr. McBride

I am sorry. The Order sets the seal on the Labour Party giving recognition to Wales as a people and nation in their own right. The office of Secretary of States for Wales is not now something tagged on the other commitments of the Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs, as it was when the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) held that office. I hope that the transfer of functions to my right hon. Friend will find in him a repository and guardian of all that is good in Welsh affairs and that he will have the support of all hon. Members from Wales, except a few.

Mr. Peter Thomas

Will not the hon. Gentleman say how many back bench Members from Wales, apart from the noble Lady the Member for Carmarthen (Lady Megan Lloyd George), are on his side of the House at the moment?

Mr McBride

About five.

Mr. Peter Thomas


Mr McBride

The hon. Friends of the right hon. Member for Conway who represent Wales are conspicuous by their absence, apart from the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box).

Mr. W. G. Morgan (Denbigh)

And Denbigh.

Mr. McBride

The transfer of these functions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State shows that the needs and requirements of the Principality will be heard in the highest court in the land. No matter what hon. Members opposite may say, they have always denied Wales the right to have a Secretary of State, or they would have appointed one.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This Order does not create the office of Secretary of State for Wales. It transfers certain functions and we had better get back to the matter of the Order.

Mr. McBride

The Order can clearly be seen as something which will be beneficial to Wales. There is only one question which I should like to ask my right hon. Friend. It is whether if any legislation contained in the Order is amended or repealed it will be replaced by legislation or amended by new legislation enacted to relace the repealed Statute or Statutes.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Donald Box (Cardiff, North)

As we have had the English and Scottish view on the Order, it is, perhaps, appropriate that a Welsh Member for a Welsh constituency should state his point of view. I support my hon. Friends the Members for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) and Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby) in opposing the transfer of functions Order which is before us tonight. I do so because it is a rather bewildering and disappointing document.

The Order is bewildering because it lists in its 18 pages over 115 enactments in Part I of Schedule 1 dealing with housing and local government, and these are modified by no less than 20 amendments in Part II. It is disappointing because we were led to believe prior to the election that we would have a Secretary of State with wide executive power, not only for housing and local government, but for health, education and agriculture as well. We do not have a Secretary of State with those powers.

I suppose that the most important transfers of function outlined in this document are those relating to housing and local government. We are told in the Explanatory Note on page 17 that the transfer covers a wide range of the activities of local authorities. Whilst this can be said to be true to some extent, there are some rather unusual functions transferred.

On surveying the list, one finds such items as these: the Places of Worship Sites Amendment Act, 1882, the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935, the Markets and Fairs (Weighing of Cattle) Act, 1887, the Brine Pumping (Compensation for Subsidence) Act, 1891, the Rural Water Supplies and Sewerage Act, 1951, the Rag Flock and Other Filling Materials Act, 1951, the Public Lavatories (Turnstiles) Act, 1963, and no fewer than eight Acts relating to burials and two to cremations. How we are expected to understand such a complicated document is beyond my comprehension.

If hon. Members refer to the reference to the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, on page 6 of the Order, they will see that the transfer of functions Order includes the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962, except sections 10(2), 19(1), 31(1), 34, 42(1), 44(2), 49(2), 55(2) and about another 16 similar items, concluding with and Schedule 9 (subject to paragraph 8 of Part II of this Schedule). How on earth is any right hon. or hon. Member to follow the complications of that sort of transfer of functions? It is virtually impossible. We cannot tell whether the Secretary of State, for example, really has the powers to deal with boundaries on both a local government and a national government level. Perhaps he will tell us, if he is sure himself, when he replies to the debate, whether he can give a decision or whether a decision on those points will be long delayed.

Perhaps in the eyes of many people the most important function that is transferred relates to roads, bridges and ferries. Although we know that unprecedented progress has been made in supplying roads into Wales, most of us would agree that roads within Wales need considerable further expenditure. I hope that we can now look forward to a forward-looking, visionary programme in this respect. In case I get out of order, I add quickly that I hope that it will include the Eastern Avenue for Cardiff, which has so often been the subject of criticism by hon. Members opposite.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford stated, in Article 5 of the Order reference is made to the transfer of functions relating to water, and water is very important, if not dynamite, in Wales. In paragraph 2, Schedule 3 refers to the redistribution of water resources in any area of Wales. This is particularly important as I understand that the Clywedrog Dam is to be completed in 18 months' or two years' time.

I read an article in a Sunday newspaper recently which said that about 11,000 million gallons are to be transferred from this dam to be used to top up the River Severn during the summer months, and that the River Severn will be enabled by this additional supply to supply 10 massive users already drawing water from it. It is even feasible that it could be used to top up the River Thames as well. It is very significant that these 10 massive users are outside Wales. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman could tell us whether this Order gives him any right to payment for this valuable commodity of water from Wales, because he knows and I know and all hon. Members for Welsh constituencies know how badly we need additional revenue for the counties in mid-Wales where rainfall is rather plentiful.

We were promised a strong voice in the Cabinet when the Secretary of State for Wales was appointed. It is difficult to see how this Order helps that strong voice to speak loudly. I am afraid that it is unlikely to be effective, unless the Secretary of State is given additional responsibilities. A previous speaker referred to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) had the Ministry of Welsh Affairs tacked on to him. Therefore, I should like to see—I am not going to develop this theme, Mr. Speaker—the duties of the Minister of Land and Natural Resources tacked on to the Secretary of State for Wales, or even better than that, I should like to see the responsibilities of the Minister of Power tacked on to the right hon. Gentleman, after all, we all know that Wales is the principal coal mining area and also has big electrical and gas installations, and it would seem to me to be appropriate that these additional duties should be part of those of the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Speaker

It is not in order to discuss the transfer of functions other than those mentioned in the Order.

Mr. Webster

Mr. Speaker, on page 8 of the Order there is listed the Clean Air Act, 1956 except sections 1(2), 4(1), 7(2), 11(4), 17(3), 23(1), 23(2) and 34(2). I wonder whether that means that there are going to be different criteria for clean air zones. The Council of Europe is interested in this subject, and I am trying to report to the Council of Europe on experience in this country. I should be grateful if the right, hon. Gentleman would help by telling me if different criteria are to be applied in Wales because of the deep-seam coal and anthracite industries in the Principality.

Mr. Box

My hon. Friend has taken the words virtually out of my mouth. Only this afternoon we heard the Minister of Power state that he was to—what was it?—compel, persuade, ask or invite local authorities to use more coal in the future. This has a particular relevance to what my hon. Friend said in reference to the Clean Air Act. One wonders whether the use of coal in industrial, built-up areas will conform to the Clean Air Act.

You ruled me out of order,Mr. Speaker, but I was only going to say that, in addition, Wales has a particular reputation as being the largest producer of steel in the whole of the United Kingdom. We understand that the Ministry of Power is to be responsible for nationalisation, but if this were to go through, and I would not want to see it go through——

Mr. Speaker

I find no reference to the Ministry of Power or nationalisation anywhere in the Order.

Mr. Box

I thank you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and will conclude merely by saying that the Order is, as we see it, extremely complicated and difficult to follow. It would take months, if not years, to extract all the Orders that are covered with all the Amendments and I hope, therefore, that the House will agree that the Order should be rejected.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box) referred to the fact that the Order was too complicated. He then listed a number of points and claimed that they proved his argument because, he said, they were beyond his comprehension; but surely his comprehension is imposing an unnecessary limitation on this House. I submit that monosyllabic simplicity is not always possible within the framework of the law.

The hon. Gentleman referred to what he called the two important functions of housing and transport. I suggest that it is for those two reasons, if for no other, that we on this side of the House welcome this Order, because if we look at these two criteria of the efficacy and effectiveness of the previous Administration in dealing with Welsh problems, we see why it was necessary to undertake this transfer of functions. If, as the Opposition are saying, it is unsatisfactory that we should vest these powers in the Secretary of State, we must conclude that it would have been better to have left the powers as they were, in the hands of a part-time Minister, who for part of his time was dealing with the problems of Wales, and for part of his time was dealing with the problems of housing.

If the previous arrangement was a better one, how do the Opposition account for the peculiar development of the housing situation in Wales under the previous Administration? After all, they have to prove that the previous system was better than the present one to justify abandoning the Order, and when we look at their record we see that from 1954 to 1963, during which time the Minister of Housing and Local Government was also in charge of Welsh affairs, taking the 1954 output as what we should have provided—that is not allowing for an increase in the building industry, and not allowing for the development of capacity in the industry—we lost one year and 10 months of output because they cut back output so much. When they left office, they had not repeated the 1954 figure. The result was that under the previous Administration we lost 27,580 houses in Wales.

Let me consider next the point that was made about transport. On the basis on which it was administered by the previous Government, England, with six times the acreage of Wales, had 58 times the mileage of 6-lane and 5-lane trunk roads. If we bring this down to a comparable acreage, it means that for every mile in Wales, there were 10 in England. If we consider the 3-lane trunk road system, we find that 16 miles were constructed in England for every mile in Wales. Bringing it down still further, and making an adjustment for acreage, we find that the mileage constructed in England was two-and-a-half times that in Wales.

Those figures show that, both with regard to housing and transport, the system adopted by the previous Government left Wales a neglected country. That is why we welcome the Order.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

Can the hon. Member say what is the proportion of the gross national product produced in Wales, compared with England?

Mr. Williams

What we are talking about is the build-up of the industrial potential of an area. What concerns us is what Wales could contribute to the gross national product, not what it is contributing.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

indicated dissent.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but under the previous Administration, the depopulation of Wales was continued at such a rate that it doubled during their period of office. Inevitably, the contribution to the gross national product would eventually have had to dwindle. Does this mean that there is no need to build up the roads and the industry? Surely this bears out the importance of our claim that in neglecting roads, housing and the economic needs of the area, the previous Administration were contributing to the run down of a nation with a great economic potential. For this reason, I welcome the Order.

11.12 p.m.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Cornwall, North)

The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) was arguing that we should have spent more money on Welsh development in the past few years under the previous Administration. When I asked him what proportion of the gross national product was produced in Wales, he did not know the answer. I do not blame him. It is obviously a much smaller amount than that in England.

Mr. Alan Williams

It is not.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

It is something like 5 per cent. compared with 95 per cent.

Mr. Alan Williams

The hon. Member quotes 5 per cent. as opposed to 95 per cent. Is he aware that Wales has 5 per cent., as opposed to 95 per cent., of the population, and that therefore it is producing its share?

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

No, it is not. The hon. Member knows that the argument he is using shows that what he is saying is not correct; but I do not want to pursue him into the realms of the Welsh part of the Order.

The Order also relates to the transfer of functions to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. I am sorry that the House has had to deal with these two functions at the same time. Hon. Members for Welsh constituencies would have plenty to say about the transfer of functions to the Secretary of State for Wales, and this could make an adequate debate in itself, but so could the transfer of functions to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. One wants to ask the Minister how he would carry out his new functions, and to criticise the methods adopted.

The two most important ones, so far as England is concerned, are the transfer to him from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture of those functions involving forestry. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question about land. I understand from Article 9 that the land which has been taken over by the Forestry Commission—which is not at the moment planted, but which has been administered by his right hon. Friend before 1st April through the Agricultural Land Service—is now vested in the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. Will the right hon. Gentleman take over the Land Service, or will he set up a parallel organisation to administer this land, which is awaiting afforestation by the Forestry Commission? What system will be adopted over this? Is all land to be transferred?

On future acquisitions of land, how is consultation to work between the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture? I am glad to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture sitting below the Gangway. I hope that my words will bear fruit in his mind, and that he will pass them on to his right hon. Friend. This might well develop into a difficult problem between the two Ministries, each trying to preserve land for agricultural use.

Under Article 4, the Minister has the powers to acquire land for afforestation. What land will he acquire? He will probably say that this survey will show what the land will be, but has he the powers to acquire the land, or will he have to go to the Minister of Agriculture and get them through him? Will there be duplication in the administration? What will happen to land which the Forestry Commission cannot plant for forestry or to land which it decides to give back to agriculture? Must it be passed through the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry, back to the Ministry of Agriculture and then back to farming? Much of the right hon. Gentleman's functions under Article 4 will need explanation, and I bitterly regret that the right hon. Gentleman himself is not here to reply to the debate.

Article 5 deals with the transfer of certain water functions to the Secretary of State and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. May I refer to water in England? The right hon. Gentleman is taking over functions in respect of the Water Resources Board, and the Explanatory Note states that the right hon. Gentleman becomes responsible for the Water Resources Board and for functions relating to investigation and research into the conservation and augmenting of water resources and to hydrometric records and schemes". The right hon. Gentleman is not taking over the administration of the river authorities; that remains with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. What happens if a river authority is having difficulty with the minimum flow and wishes to increase it? Is the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the measurement of the minimum flow in the river authority's area or is that the responsibility of the river authority? What happens if there is a shortage? Is it the right hon. Gentleman's duty to conserve the water and build a dam? This would mean taking agricultural land, which would concern the Minister of Agriculture.

It seems that under Article 5 the right hon. Gentleman will have some functions concerning water resources, perhaps the most important functions, but will have no power over the river authorities. It seems nonsensical to make one Minister responsible for the Water Resources Board and another responsible for the river authorities, and I do not see how these will work happily together.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find time to come to the House and to explain how he intends to carry out his functions under the provisions dealing with forestry and water resources, because in my opinion he will be able to carry out these functions neither well nor properly. That is why this is a bad Order, and I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is not here to reply to the debate.

11.18 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. James Griffiths)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) and his hon. Friends have at least had more time for the debate than they had a week ago when the filibustering of hon. Members on their side of the House robbed them of an opportunity of making their speeches.

One comment I would make to hon. Members opposite: it is time they made up their minds whether they want the Secretary of State for Wales and a Welsh Office. I was very interested when the hon. Member for Hereford again spoke nostalgically about the time when Wales was under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and there was a strong Department. The Leader of the Opposition was recently interviewed on the B.B.C. in Wales, and perhaps his answer on this subject could be confirmed. The question was put to him very bluntly: If you are elected Prime Minister —I like that "if" very much— is it your policy to abolish the Welsh Office and to put Wales under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government? The reply was, No. We shall keep a Secretary of State".

Mr. Gibson-Watt

My right hon. Friend has given the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Mr. Griffiths

This is of great importance to Wales. I take it, therefore, that the Leader of the Opposition was speaking for the hon. Member for Hereford and all his hon. Friends, and that therefore they do not propose to put Wales back under the old system for which the hon. Member has such a nostalgic regard. I take it that they intend to keep the Secretary of State for Wales. Perhaps we shall some day hear from them which responsibilities they think should be transferred.

We have had the advantage of a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee on this problem of the devolution of functions. That was, I agree, before the Order was published. However, that debate covered most of the points which have been raised tonight. I will, therefore, seek to reply to the questions which, in the main, were not discussed more fully in the Grand Committee.

The Order is designed to carry out—to put it broadly in this way—the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during past months about the transfer of functions. I appreciate that this is a complicated Order and I understand how difficult it is to follow in many respects. Its purpose is to make transfers from three Ministers, the Minister of Housing and Local Government and the Minister of Transport, as well as the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to make transfers to the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of Land and Natural Resources. This has involved a study of nearly 200 Statutes, and I pay tribute to those who have been responsible for the Order because every sub-paragraph of it has had to be carefully examined to ensure that all the appropriate powers vested in Acts passed over many years are transferred to the appropriate Ministers. What the Order does is to carry into effect the decisions made by the Government about the transfer of responsibilities.

I come to some of the questions which I have been asked. The hon. Member for Hereford inquired about the Fire Services Act, 1947. The principal functions under that Act are vested in the Home Office, but the Minister of Housing and Local Government had one function in particular, under Section 14, to determine questions of the refusal of statutory water undertakings to enter into agreements for supplies of water for fire fighting. That is transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales and, therefore, I hope that that clears the matter up to the satisfaction of the hon. Member. The major responsibility is with the Home Office, as we agreed at the end of the war, when responsibility in this matter, which was entrusted during the war years to the nation, was handed to the local authorities.

Before proceeding, I must say something about forestry, which is an extremely important matter. Since the debate in the Welsh Grand Committee, the Prime Minister has announced the proposed transfer of responsibilities for forestry in Wales to the Secretary of State for Wales. Previously, responsibility for forestry in this country has been divided between two Ministers—the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for Scotland, as the Minister of Agriculture for Scotland. These responsibilities are now being transferred to the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to myself, as the Secretary of State for Wales. The Minister of Land and Natural Resources comes into this, because this is one of the great resources of the country and it is of advantage that we should have a Ministy which will be thinking of this as a national problem.

I recall the early days, when the House used to have debates on forestry. I should like us to have other debates on the subject. This is a very important industry providing important services. The establishment and work of the Forestry Commission is a tribute to the combination of public and private ownership. The Commission has done admirable work. It is a responsible body with its own Vote. Ministers have certain powers of direction, but the powers and functions of the Commission are unaffected by the Order. What happens is that the responsibility for Wales in this matter is now mine.

I say at once how important I regard these activities. Forestry is of vital importance to the part of Wales which presents us with some of our biggest problems. It has made an important contribution to the economic rejuvenation of the whole area of Mid-Wales. The Commission provides employment, and to all those who are engaged in forestry I say that they have added to the beauty of an already beautiful countryside. I pay tribute to them, not only for the tangible help they have given towards increasing the wealth of Wales and the nation but also for the way in which the planting has been imaginatively designed so that it will add to the beauty of the countryside.

Let me say to the hon. Member for Dorset, West (Mr. Wingfield Digby), who asked whether certain bodies would have direct access to myself and my right hon. Friend, that the answer is, "Yes, they will." Forestry is still a vital part of the Welsh economy. It still has a vital part to play in Wales, but one of the problems which must be faced is that of securing land. In thinking of forestry in Wales we have to think in the context of the fact that so much of those areas best suited for it are part of the National Parks: and also, in this context, that is a reason why we should have a Minister for Wales with the necessary responsibility.

As hon. Members have pointed out, we have three Ministers instead of two, but there was a Report on the Forestry Services from the Estimates Committee recently and that is being considered by the Government. While speaking of that. I am very glad that the Prime Minister thought it right to transfer this duty—and it is singularly a Welsh duty—to the Secretary for State. Believe me, I can assure the House that I shall find no difficulty in this matter. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Land and Natural Resources and I have been co-operating in this matter, and we are co-operating and I assure all those hon. Members interested in forestry that this co-operation will add to the advantages for Wales which, itself, will have a part to play which is not unimportant.

I should like to say, in the few minutes left to me, something about the problems of water. One hon. Member used the word "dynamite" in this context. He was right. It is a matter about which there are strong feelings. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Land and Natural Resources has overall responsibility, and all the details were set out by the Prime Minister on 19th January, so I will not go over them again. However, it is well to remember that in this matter of water we may well be reaching a period when there will be serious problems. This is just another example of how we have allowed industry to grow in an area where industrial facilities were needed but did not exist. We have heard of the South-East, but why did we not think of the consequences of allowing the south-eastern part of England to go on expanding without any thought at all being given to what its need would be?

One of these days there may be very great difficulty because no thought has been given to the fact that water was so essential a part of the development. So, it is right on that score that there should be a place for the Minister of Land and Natural Resources in this. I read in one of the Sunday newspapers how some people were looking to "wet Wales" for more water, but I did not read how we have all these problems in the use of water, and the conservation of water, and I assure the House that I shall try to care for Welsh interests in this matter.

It must not be forgotten that, in both forestry and water supply, the areas affected in terms of providing the greatest supplies are those areas where we have to face difficulties arising from depopulation. If I may add an imponderable consideration—and there are imponderables in this—I must point out that these are the areas where our Welsh culture and our language depend upon there being no depopulation. People may talk of "wet Wales", but to me it has become something of a desert in parts, although still with communities in them. I do not want to raise Offa's Dyke, and I would say that the best way of preventing any anti-English feeling from arising in Wales—and while I should hate to say so, it can—is for us to give Wales an assurance that it will get a fair deal, that it is being looked after, and that the Welsh people are not being used merely for England's benefit—giving the impression that the Wye, and all the rest of it, are all English—and the fairest thing to do is to link up each of the Ministries concerned in these things.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins rose——

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instruments, &c. (Procedure)).

Question negatived.