HC Deb 24 April 1967 vol 745 cc1287-96

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harold Walker.]

9.56 p.m.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

Some weeks ago we of the old industrial valleys of South Wales were amazed by a statement by the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs that he had appointed a central planning unit to look for a site near the River Severn for a city with a population of 1 million which would cost £1,000 million. That is a modest sum for a city of that size and it is probably an under-statement.

I and many others in South Wales, particularly in the industrial valleys, wonder whether the Government, in considering this vast and uncalled-for expenditure, have given a fleeting thought to the cruel and disastrous effect of such a new Severn-side city on our valley communities. We do not think they have. They have certainly forgotten the exceptionally vast industrial and economic contribution which those valleys have for generations made to the well-being of the country at a great cost of life and limb. It is also obvious that the Government have ignored the outstanding political contribution made to our movement, which brought the Government into being, by the South Wales miners in particular.

I must warn the Government that, although the population of these valleys is being cruelly reduced by unemployment, a strong sense of community still exists there. Their enforced depopula- tion cannot be forgotten or forgiven. We must remember that the political work is largely done by old-time idealists or inspired by deep-rooted idealism in these communities. Hence the importance to this Government of keeping the South Wales valleys alive in their Socialist faith. I do not apologise for using that expression. I know that it belongs to a terminology which is becoming more and more alien and forgotten. Why talk of spending £1,000 million on piecing together an aggregation of one million people who will be strangers to one another, with no common social or industrial bonds?

We can never forget, too, that from the South Wales coalfield nearly 400,000 of our people were driven by unemployment in the inter-war years, 25,000 of them from my relatively small constituency. Of those people, the middle-aged and the older ones have never forgotten their old homes and associations. Wherever they happen to live now, their sentiment for their old valley communities is as strong as ever and very many of them have never forgiven the circumstances that drove them from their homes. That drift still continues.

I should like to give a few simple figures showing the continued depopulation of our Welsh valleys during the time that the present Government have been in power. I will take the short period of 17 or 18 months between 1964 and the 1966 General Elections. These figures obviously apply to adults aged 21 or over. In that short period, the electorate in the Aberdare constituency was reduced by 901; in Ebbw Vale, it was reduced by 963; in my constituency of Merthyr Tydfil, by 1,068; in the Abertillery constituency by 1,108; and in the Rhondda constituencies by nearly 2,000. These figures, I repeat, relate to people over the age of 21.

I do not wish to detain the House very long, but this is a subject on which, had we time, my hon. Friends from South Wales would like to address the House. I have no hesitation in asking the members of the Government to read the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones), delivered only a matter of days ago. Never was a more sincere and illuminating maiden speech delivered in the House of Commons. I am certain that if that speech were read by members of the Government it might prick their consciences a little and bring home to them the distance which they have travelled away from the basic principles which brought this movement into being and sustained it through the long years of Toryism.

My hon. Friend's maiden speech gave all the answers to the reckless and irresponsible threat of spending £1,000 million. Not only did I hear my hon. Friend deliver his maiden speech, but I have read and re-read it, and so have a considerable number of my constituents.

If I may say so, in all humility, I have lived in this movement long enough to make it impossible for me to shed the conviction that the death of these great history valley communities will be the end of all justification for the existence of this Government. Severnside will contribute very largely indeed to that wicked end.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) has raised a very important subject, but he has spoken, if I may say so, as though he believes, or has been led to believe, that a decision had been arrived at by the Government to establish a city on Severnside at very great cost for an immense population. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales will make it quite clear that no such decision has been taken. I understand that the various regional authorities concerned have arranged to make a study of Severnside.

It is certain that, with the opening of the bridge, development will take place on Severnside. What is very important is that we should prevent from happening now what has happened in the past following some such project—industrial development sprawling everywhere. I therefore hope that there will be co-operation on all sides to see that such development is ordered and controlled, and not allowed to grow into an ugly sprawl. We have had enough of that. We are now paying a very heavy price of the lack of real planning and design in guiding and harnessing our economic and industrial growth.

Some time this year we are due to have a plan for Wales. I hope that no decision will be made about Severnside until we have that plan. We are pledged as a Government—and I gave an undertaking as Secretary of State for Wales, and my successor has given the same undertaking—that there will be a plan indicating the details of what is to be done in terms of future industrial development in Wales. We should see that plan before a decision is made.

I hope that in that plan very full consideration will be given to the future of the valleys. I entirely agree that if our valley communities are lost something very precious will have been lost in the life not only of our movement, but of the country. I hope that my hon. Friend will reassure us that no decision has been made, that the plan for Wales will be published before any decision is arrived at, and that before long the House will have an opportunity to discuss all these matters which are connected with industrial development in Wales.

10.10 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Ifor Davies)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies) for having raised this extremely important matter tonight. I appreciate, also, the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). I shall deal with the points he made.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the very sincere, persuasive and, as usual, powerful way in which he presented his case. I fully share his concern about the unemployment situation in the industrial valleys of South Wales, including his constituency. No one shares that more than I do. I can speak with some experience of my constituency in this matter. This situation is bound up with the changing face of Welsh industry. On the one hand, there is a decline in basic heavy industries—notably coal—and, on the other, tremendous efforts are being made, and will continue to be made, to introduce new industry, and not without success.

The problems of the regions have already been debated at length in the House today. I assure my hon. Friend and all my hon. Friends that the Secretary of State is determined to ensure that the special problems of industrial Wales shall be dealt with as urgently and effectively as possible. The main point of my hon. Friend's speech was that the approval of a Severnside scheme is completely inconsistent with the need to solve the problems of industrial South Wales. That fear has been expressed in more than one quarter. I hope tonight to be able to convince my hon. Friend that the fear, although perfectly understandable, is not well-founded. I see from the Order Paper that my hon. Friend refers to the Minister's approval to the Severnside scheme". The fact is that there has been no such approval. What is in hand is a study of the Severnside area and I shall explain why the study is taking place.

It has been estimated that by about the end of the century the population of this country will increase by about 20 million. Inevitably, such an estimate is subject to a considerable margin of error, but this is the best estimate that can be made at present and there is no reason to suppose that it is far off the mark. It represents a percentage increase which is probably larger than anything in our history over a similar period of time.

Although the bulk of the increase is not likely to take place until after 1980 it is not too soon to consider where the increase in population can best be located. Clearly, the new towns can make a contribution to the solution of the problem. Then again the massive redevelopment of 19th century housing areas—perhaps at higher densities—will provide a part of the answer. Nor can we overlook the contribution made by the steady expansion of existing towns—although on this I should point out that there are limits beyond which expansion can be counter-productive in terms of central area and traffic congestion. But even after making generous allowances for solutions along these lines we are likely to be faced with a considerable gap.

The real need, therefore, is to determine where to build to accommodate the "increased" population and to build on a large scale. It is historically true that urban development in this country has taken place in the context of the prob- lems of particular towns or, more rarely, particular regions. This is the history of our new towns. More often than not development has been located where there happens to be land available for development. But the cities of the future, and their location, must be looked at in the context of the national problem since they will be expected to make a major contribution to the economic growth and well-being of the country as a whole.

This means that they should be sited and planned in such a way that the economic activities of their citizens determines their most effective location. I do not have to remind my hon. Friend that we already have too many examples in South Wales of urban development having taken place where there happened to be land available for development. Indeed, it is true to say that one of our greatest problems in South Wales at present, and one which will continue to face us for some years, is how best to deal with this unhappy legacy of the last century—the residential development huddled around the colliery or the houses crowded together in the shadow of the steel works. There are many examples in my hon. Friend's constituency and, indeed, in mine.

It is also important to determine the location of the new and large scale development which will be needed with due regard to other large investments. For instance, to ignore the planned investment in motorways and to disregard the advantages of estuarial locations would be the antithesis of good long-term and positive planning.

It was against this background that my hon. Friend the then First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs announced in the House on 7th July, 1966, that the Government were putting in hand a detailed study of the Humberside area to consider whether there was a site or sites in that area capable of accommodating on a large scale part of the expected population increase. My right hon. Friend went on to say that Severnside and the Dundee area were other areas already identified for early study.

The time has now come to start the Severnside study, with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is closely identified, since part of the study area is within my right hon. Friend's territorial responsibilities. That is why I am speaking in reply to my hon. Friend tonight.

The study will be under the overall control of the Central Unit for Environmental Planning, which is part of the Department of Economic Affairs. But all the other Departments which have an interest in this work will be represented on the unit or closely associated with it. The Welsh Office is one of those Departments.

The study will take the form of an examination of the physical and economic potential of the area with a view to defining the main factors which would operate in favour of or against a big inflow of population. It will be in sufficient depth to enable views to be formed on the location, scale, cost and phasing of possible developments, the sort of industries that might be attracted to the area, and, perhaps most important of all in the context of my hon. Friend's concern, what would be the effects on South Wales and other parts of the country of a substantial growth of population on Severnside.

Mr. James Griffiths

Will the Welsh Economic Council be brought fully into this?

Mr. Davies

Yes. I will come to that in a moment.

One vital aspect of the study will be a survey to collect information from industrial firms in the study area about their trade and employment, their prospects for the future, and the advantages and disadvantages of the area for different kinds of industries.

There will also be a physical planning unit to investigate the physical possibilities and limitations of the study area for large scale development. The physical planning unit will be staffed by officers from Central Government Departments, including the Welsh Office, and from the local planning authorities which have responsibilities in the study area.

I must emphasise that the local authority officials working in the unit will not be there, as representatives or delegates of their particular authorities. They will be full members of the unit contributing to the work of the unit their considerable local knowledge in the field of physical planning.

It is never easy to settle to everyone's satisfaction the limits—the geographical limits—of a study of this kind. We have already been told that the part of Wales which is included in the study area is too extensive. We have also been told that it is not extensive enough. Indeed, we have heard some comments to the effect that the boundary chosen is just right.

The Welsh part of the study area covers a substantial part of Monmouthshire. Newport is included. So are Cwmbran, Caerleon, Pontypool, Usk and Chepstow urban districts, Monmouth and Abergavenny boroughs and all the rural districts in the county. One of these rural districts is Magor and St. Mellons, which is really in two parts, one either side of Newport. For statistical reasons, it would be inappropriate to include only a part of a county district, and in any case it is right that a substantial part of the land between Newport and Cardiff should be studied.

Cardiff itself has been excluded. I know that this has caused concern, particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. E. Rowlands). This does not mean, however, that the interests of Cardiff are being prejudiced. Far from it. Cardiff plays an important rôle as the capital city of Wales, as an administrative, educational and commercial centre, and its functions in these respects are likely to continue to grow. The study will, therefore, take careful account of the position of Cardiff in relation to Severnside generally and of the effects upon Cardiff of any possible large-scale development of Severnside.

I come now to the question raised by my right hon. Friend. When the study is completed, all bodies in the area, including the Welsh Economic Council, will have an opportunity to consider and to comment on it before any basic Government policy is settled.

I hope that that meets the point which he raised. I trust that my hon. Friend will appreciate, also, that the study is intended to seek a solution to a national problem and has little connection with the problems facing industrial South Wales today. It is important to draw a clear distinction between this national problem of where to accommodate the massive increase in population and the local and regional problem of unemployment and the changing structure of the South Wales economy. In practice, the distinction can be most clearly illustrated, perhaps, in terms of the time scales involved. The local and regional problem faces us now, and it will continue to face us, perhaps, for four or five years.

I emphasise that this is the critical period of transformation for industrial South Wales, especially in the valleys. The Government are not running away from that or from the challenge. I assure my hon. Friend that, in spite of the comments which he made, no Government have ever shown greater concern for the economic and general well-being of the people of Wales.

I do not wish to minimise the gravity of the problems—they will not be easy to solve—but it is wrong to think of them in the context of the Severnside study, because it will almost certainly be many years before any large-scale development of the kind to which I have referred can take place on Severnside. Moreover, that is on the assumption that there can or should be large-scale development on Severnside at all. Only the study can show whether that assumption is realistic.

The time scales and the phasing of the two problems are quite different, and for this reason alone I am sure that my hon. Friend's fears are not well founded. I assure him that any large-scale Severn-side development in the far distant future will not be allowed—I stress this—to deflect us from our current policy for dealing with the urgent problems of the industrial valleys of Wales. The Government are doing everything possible to find a solution to these problems, and the considerable success—I say this with pride—which has already been achieved augurs well for the future.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Monmouth)

This is a vital problem, vital for my constituency, too. As my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. O. Davies) have shown, it is vital for the whole of Wales, and I hope, therefore, that we shall at some time have a debate about it in the Welsh Grand Committee, when fuller expression of our views can be given.

No final decision has been reached on the Severnside project, but the Government are to be commended for their advance preparation in looking at problems which are likely to arise in the future, particularly those resulting from the increase in population. I see no necessary connection between the decline of the industrial valleys and the development of Severnside. Indeed, the contrary may prove to be correct, because Severn-side could act as a pole of attraction over a wider area, just as developments in Swansea now are acting as a central area of activity for a larger part of West Wales.

This problem is being seen in United Kingdom rather than specifically Welsh terms. On the other hand, we in Wales have to ensure that there are no bad consequences, particularly for our own industrial valleys, those valleys where there are such grand communities at present and such a great spirit of life, as I witnessed myself only recently at Rhondda. There will certainly be growth on Severnside—

The Question having been proposed after half-past Nine o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Ten o'clock.