§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pym.]
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)
It is 18 months since the last Welsh Day debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I welcome this new opportunity for our traditional wide-ranging review of Welsh affairs in which the House can take stock of Government policies as they affect Wales and of the activities and developments in Wales which lie within the responsibilities of Government Departments.
Right hon. and hon. Members opposite have, in their customary way, shown that they feel that 18 months is rather a long time. However, although 18 months have passed since our last debate of this kind, Parliament has nevertheless spent some considerable time on Welsh matters—and rightly so. There have been 14 sittings of the Welsh Grand Committee and a wide range of interests have been covered, including, local government reform, National Health Service reform, communications, and the coal and steel industries. On the Floor of the House, we have debated Government policy on unemployment in relation to Wales. As to parliamentary Questions, my hon. Friend, the Minister of State, and I have answered about 1,600 parliamentary Questions, over 600 of them orally. I think it is right to say, therefore, that, since our last Welsh Day, Parliament has devoted more time to the consideration of Welsh affairs than ever before in a comparable period.
I want to take as my theme today the way in which Government policies, through my Department, have been shaped by the distinctive needs of Wales. I want to show that our administration is developing so that it is sensitive to modern needs. When there is a real reason, Wales acts separately and specially. The Welsh Office has taken on additional responsibilities. Within the Welsh Office, the organisation is tuned to deal with the pressing current problems. I have established, for example, special units to deal with problems of environmental pollu- 1136 tion and to safeguard Welsh interests within the EEC.
The period since our previous debate has been characteristised by the introduction of major legislation affecting public life in the Principality. The Local Government Bill received the Royal Assent on 26th October. For the first time local government in Wales has been framed not as if it were an integral part of the English pattern but to take into account the special needs of Wales itself.
We are now at the stage of preparation for the assumption of responsibilities by the new councils. In just a few months' time, elections will take place for the new county and district councils which will then exist until April 1974 side by side with those they replace. I have urged existing authorities to form committees, as required in the Act, and I am glad to say that over most of Wales these joint committees are functioning satisfactorily.
In one or two cases, however, there have been difficulties because of local dissensions. I very much regret this and I hope that in these cases, which are very few, there will quickly be an agreement to co-operate in the important work of preparation, bearing in mind that the committees are not asked, indeed are not empowered, to take decisions which will be binding on the new authorities when they come into being. Their main function is to discuss and consider matters of common concern, to identify problems, and to put their conclusions before the new councils when these are elected—but there is very little time left.
One of the tasks which fall upon me is to make an order prescribing the names of the 37 new districts in Wales. Much consideration has been given in every part of Wales to this question, and on Friday last I announced my decisions in a circular letter to Welsh local authorities. It is necessary that these names should be settled quickly for many reasons.
But the immediate point is that preparations are already being made for the new district council elections. These, of course, require the preparation of notices, papers and so on, which ought if possible to include the names of the new districts. I am glad to say that in many 1137 cases there was unanimity in the committees of existing authorities on the name to be given to the new district. Where I have had to exercise a choice, I have weighed very carefully the arguments in favour of one name and the other, and I have reached my conclusion after very considerable reflection. I hope that this difficult task will not make me more enemies than friends. In any case, the Act provides a procedure under which names can be changed if the new councils so decide in the years ahead.
A second major piece of legislation recognising distinctive Welsh needs is the Government's proposal for reorganisation of the National Health Service in Wales. I do not want to repeat the arguments which were deployed on both sides when we discussed this subject a few weeks ago in Welsh Grand Committee. The overwhelming majority of reorganisation proposals are common to both Wales and England. But there are some differences between the administrative proposals for the two countries because of the decision not to introduce a regional tier. By placing the responsibility for the planning and running of the health services on the area health authorities directly we have taken advantage of the circumstances in Wales to ensure that the people who are responsible are nearer to the communities they serve.
The National Health Service Reorganisation Bill is passing through the Committee stage in another place and, subject to progress, will be for consideration by this House soon after we reassemble. This will give the opportunity for this House to consider both the generality of the Government's reorganisation proposals and the aspects peculiar to Wales. I am satisfied that the Government's proposals, when implemented, will provide the framework for the health service in Wales to develop and adapt to the changing circumstances of the '70s and '80s. The legislation setting up the National Health Service has served us well. But it is now time to go forward.
Finally in this review of major legislation I should like to refer briefly to the Housing Finance Act. Eleven days ago I appointed housing commissioners to take over certain of the functions of the Merthyr Tydvil County Borough Council and Bedwas and Machen Urban District Council, which had persisted in their 1138 refusal to implement the Act. Both councils had been given ample time to comply with the requirements placed upon them by this House. By failing to do so, they deprived tenants of the right to the generous rent rebates which the Act provides. I have appointed housing commissioners because I am determined that those entitled to rebates should get them and that ratepayers should not bear the unfair burden of the lost revenue.
But I am ready to return to the councils the functions I have taken from them as soon as they are prepared to assume the responsibilities which Parliament has placed on them. The commissioners I have appointed have the duty of implementing the Act and, in doing so, they have the right, indeed, the duty, to bring home to everyone the implications and the benefits of the policies which they are carrying through. Furthermore, they are entitled as the housing committees whose functions they have assumed to get the best possible deal for tenants, and I am able to inform the House that the two commissioners have applied for directions for the increase in rent to be less than the statutory amount—something which the councils themselves could have done and did not. I am now considering these applications.
Already throughout Wales, councils and their tenants and ratepayers alike are beginning to realise that when the Government claimed that the Act was an instrument of social justice, we were speaking no more than the truth. Once fair rents have been determined for individual dwellings, there will be a three-year period of stability; and individual tenants will know that the rents they will pay will be fairly related to their resources.
I now turn from these aspects to what is always a vital part of our discussions—the Welsh economic situation. I shall not engage the time of the House today in contesting party points about who did what or failed to do what in the past and why, since 1966, the level of unemployment in Wales has been higher than it was before. I have no doubt that on both sides of the House we could all produce telling statistics. But I think that the people of Wales are weary of this. What they want to know is what 1139 is being done to tackle economic problems. Here, after a long and difficult period, I can draw attention to some signs of progress—as well as to some dangers that lie ahead.
First, let me remind the House of the emphasis that the present Government have given in the past two years to stimulating investment and expanding the economy. The needs of industry in all areas have been recognised—but particularly the needs of industry in the assisted areas. As the House knows, since the previous debate the whole of Wales, for the first time, is now an assisted area. The most significant development has been the way the Industry Act—a major piece of legislation—offers a wide range of attractive incentives, including generous selective assistance, to industrialists to move into the assisted areas; and by making assistance available more widely than ever before to firms already established in Wales, we are fostering their expansion and growth at a faster rate For years there has been pressure from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and, indeed, pressure from outside the House, for greater delegation of authority to Wales for decisions on applications by industry for financial assistance. We have done something about this. A new Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board has been established; it is operating: it sits in Cardiff; and it decides applications for financial assistance submitted by Welsh-based firms and by firms moving into Wales. It is made up of people who know the ways and the workings of industry, and who also fully appreciate the needs and the problems of Wales.
All these measures are having an encouraging effect. The numbers of unemployed have declined each month since August of this year—from 51,500 to 46,000; and the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which was 5.3 per cent. in the spring of this year, is now 4.5 per cent. These figures are still too high, but they are moving in the right direction.
There has also been a significant increase in the numbers of inquiries and visits by industrialists considering moving to Wales, and the Department of Trade and Industry is impressed by the quality of those firms showing an interest. I am 1140 also impressed by the interest which is being shown in Wales by firms from overseas, particularly European firms.
In this connection the Development Corporation for Wales, with financial backing by the Government on a scale far greater than ever before, is doing a valuable job. I am sure that all Welsh hon. Members were pleased to read the statement by the corporation that 27 German and Swiss firms were now considering establishing manufacturing units in Wales, directly as a result of the corporation's activities in those two countries in recent months.
This resurgence of interest in Wales as a location for new industry and for the expansion of existing industry is, I believe, evidence of the growing effectiveness of the measures taken by the Government, not least in the field of regional policy.
As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Welsh Council has recently studied in great detail the regional policy measures introduced by the Government this year. Its views are embodied in its report, which was published in July 1972. Its general reaction to the Budget measures and the regional measures was one of considerable satisfaction. It concluded that the measures would have a substantial effect in stimulating industrial investment. It welcomed the new system of regional development grants and in particular it acknowledged the increasing industrial confidence.
The council's assessment, indeed its optimism, is being proved right. Four advance factories were let in October. The Aberystwyth advance factory is being let today. As I told the House yesterday, there have been negotiations for letting the factory at Cwmgors. I can now confirm that the factory has been let. It will provide 50 jobs as soon as it is in operation. They hope the figure will rise to over 100 jobs, mainly for men, in the course of a year.
There is good news for Merthyr Tydfil.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
Whilst welcoming that statement, may I urge the Secretary of State to contact the Industrial Estates Office and to press it to do everything possible to allow the firm referred to to lake possession as urgently as possible, in the light of certain contracts of which I am aware and as a matter of urgency?
§ Mr. Thomas
I shall certainly pass on the information as requested by the hon. Member.
So far as Merthyr Tydfil is concerned, a firm which designs and manufactures mechanical handling equipment has, I understand, taken a lease for land on the Dowlais estate. The firm hopes to provide a 10,000 square feet factory with about 60 jobs, mainly for men.
There have been several other encouraging developments: Hawker Siddeley's success in obtaining a further large order for HS125s; Peerless Stamping will build a factory at Sandycroft; Alcoa is going ahead with its large Waunarlwydd project; the Hoover expansion at Merthyr Tydfil; the Schulman factory at Abercarn; the Smith Vendon development at Bridgend; the expansion by AB Electronics at Abercynon; the Japanese firm taking over a factory at Bedwas; and there are several others.
I should like to make it clear that we are faced with a major problem ahead in the steel industry. It has long been recognised that if the steel industry is to have a viable future it must be rationalised and modernised. The industry faces competition around the world. It is clearly in the interests of us all, and particularly those who are employed in the industry, that the industry should be efficient, profi` and modern. The British Steel Corporation's proposals for the future development of the industry continue under the closest study by the Government. They are being studied with the greatest care. We are facing difficult and anxious decisions. I know how worried hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House are about future policy in this field. They will do me the justice, I hope, of acknowledging that these matters weigh heavily with me, too.
Everyone connected with the industry in Wales recognises and accepts, whatever the decisions, that jobs will be lost in parts of Wales. That is the inevitable consequence of the great dependence of Wales on employment in an industry which, if modernised, is to produce more but with fewer men. I can assure the House that whatever problems arise the Government will do everything within their power to tackle them. We will use 1142 the full powers of the Industry Act 1972 to their fullest extent and if need be we shall look for additional, new measures of help.
The British Steel Corporation's plans for Ebbw Vale have already been announced. Whatever may be the outcome of the current consultations and discussions about Ebbw Vale, it is clear that more jobs are needed in the area. As I said yesterday, I have put in hand a detailed study of the implications of the recent announcement and of the measures that should be taken to deal with them. I hope to meet a deputation from the Heads of the Valleys Standing Conference shortly to discuss the situation. Again, as I said yesterday, there is a preparatory meeting taking place later this week between the deputation and the chairman and senior members of the Welsh Planning Board. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has also indicated that he will shortly be visiting the area. Everything that can be done will be done, and the same will hold good for any other area faced with a loss of job opportunities in the steel industry.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman the question I put to him yesterday and for confirmation that, whatever may be the announcement made, either before or after Christmas, his Department and the Government will not give any sanction or approval to any of the proposals of the British Steel Corporation? We do not regard those proposals concerning Ebbw Vale as anything more than that until they have been fully examined by the independent inquiry to be conducted by the works council. Do we have the absolute guarantee that the Government will not give sanction or approval to those schemes until every opportunity has been given for carrying out the investigation?
§ Mr. Thomas
I know the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to make any statement on this matter now. A statement will ultimately be made by the Minister responsible, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I am fully aware of the discussions now taking place. It is important that all discussions should continue and that every consideration should be given to the announcements that have been made.
§ Mr. Foot
This is what we are concerned about. We have had proposals from the British Steel Corporation, which, if carried through, would be catastrophic for us. We have sought to deal with the matter in Ebbw Vale in a sensible way. We have established the works council committee which is to examine the whole question. One of the matters we are concerned about is that there should not be a statement from the Government about the general proposals for the steel industry which would come along in the midst of our discussions, saying This question is, in effect, settled by what has been announced". We want an undertaking from the Government that no proposals for Ebbw Vale will be accepted by the Government until our independent works council committee's investigation of the matter has been carried through. Surely the Government should give us that amount of support regarding the proposals we are making for dealing with a highly critical and delicate situation in an intelligent manner.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am fully aware of the anxieties which are felt in Ebbw Vale and further afield following the announcement recently made by Lord Melchett as to the British Steel Corporation's proposals for Ebbw Vale. Lord Melchett made an announcement in March 1970 in respect of Ebbw Vale to the effect that the British Steel Corporation did not see that there was a long-term future for steel making at Ebbw Vale. His recent statement was very much in confirmation of that with the addition of the closing of the hot mill. I am fully aware of the concern that has been expressed. The hon. Member would not expect me to make a definitive statement now on behalf of the Government when we are still considering the implications of the full proposals which have been put to us by the British Steel Corporation.
§ Mr. Foot
Although I do not wish to occupy excessive time on this matter, it is nevertheless of absolutely paramount importance to us. I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman necessarily to give the answer now. I trust the Government would understand what is the particular situation in Ebbw Vale if any fresh announcement is to be made. The statement made on behalf of the British Steel Corporation in March 1970 is very dif- 1144 ferent from the statement made in November 1972. In the original statement the proposition was that jobs would be sustained for 8,000 people in Ebbw Vale. We could deal with that. The Government knew about that situation. Indeed we have put up proposals to the Department of the right hon. Gentleman during the interim period. I hope the right hon. Gentleman, although he may not be able to give me an answer now, will make sure that he takes into account what I say about the situation when the Government make their statement about the steel industry in general either before or after Christmas.
What I am saying may involve the whole question of sustaining work in Ebbw Vale. Some of us are trying to deal with the situation in a way that is intelligent from the point of view both of the country and of the steel industry. The right hon. Gentleman should take that into account.
§ Mr. Thomas
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will take all these matters into account. We are taking into account at the moment the full implications of the proposals which have been put to us by the British Steel Corporation. I am fully aware of the concern which has been expressed by the hon. Gentleman and by all people who are living in and around Ebbw Vale.
I turn to the coal industry, another centre piece of the Welsh economy. The Government's announcement last week of financial aid to the coal industry has been warmly welcomed in Wales. It has removed a great deal of uncertainty and provides a promise of stability.
The special grants for coking coal will be especially welcome in Wales where over half the collieries produce that type of coal. So, too, will the decision to make a special regional grant to help to preserve jobs which are primarily in areas of high unemployment. The continuation of grants towards the board's social costs, to the cost of holding stocks and to cover losses incurred under agreements with the electricity generating boards are also important and welcome aspects of the package.
Equally important and welcome is the fact that the package was shaped as a result of the closest association between 1145 all concerned in the industry. I am sure that it is recognised that the measures now taken by the Government will help to moderate any rundown in the industry and enhance the prospects of keeping collieries open. The record over the past two and a half years is good. Manpower in the industry has declined slightly due to national wastage. That is not due to closures as there has been none. By comparison, the House knows that the previous six years saw some 37,000 jobs lost in the industry in Wales, which is more than there are now left.
There is now reason for confidence in the future. As an indication, I have mentioned the National Coal Board's recent decision to undertake major investment at the Bedwas, Maerdy and Point of Ayr collieries. I am sure that the coal industry, not least in Wales, will respond enthusiastically to the vote of confidence given to it by this financial aid announcement. It is a bigger vote of confidence than has been given to it by any previous Government.
Steel and coal are two of the older industries of Wales. The oil-refining and petro-chemical industries are two of the comparatively new ones. The growth of the refining industry in Wales in recent years—and with it the developments at Milford Haven—has been quite spectacular.
We may be on the threshold of further exciting prospects for growth. I have in mind the preliminary steps which have been taken to prospect for oil and gas in the Celtic Sea. I must emphasise, however, that we are still only in the early stages of exploration. There can be no certainty that anything will be found. But, having said that, the whole House will agree with me that if substantial reserves of gas or oil are found in the Celtic Sea, the benefits to Wales may be immense.
A good deal of work is going on within the Welsh Office on this matter. We are in close consultation with other Government Departments, the local authorities concerned and with the CBI. It has been suggested that we should go further and set up a more formalised machinery for monitoring the progress of exploration and production and for dealing with the many detailed issues which will arise. But at this stage I think that would be premature. I can assure the House that 1146 I am keeping a close watch on the situation and, if developments demand it, I shall not hesitate to do more.
Developments in the economy are inevitably linked with the Government's policies for infrastructure. I will mention only roads. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that if my hon. Friend the Minister of State, catches your eye, he will be able to elaborate in more detail the specific features of the way in which the Government are tackling the problem of improving the Welsh infrastructure, which will show that we are dealing with the problem in an unprecedented manner. We are continuing to make progress with roads. More is being done than ever before. Welsh Office Vote-borne expenditure in 1971–72 was just under £30 million compared with less than £15 million in 1969–70. This year we expect to exceed £35 million.
In return we are now seeing brought into use more of the important new links in the Welsh highway network. The recently opened Morriston bypass will form part of the complete M4 motorway route. The final section of the new Midlands road between Usk and Coldra will provide a link between Newport and the motorway systems of the Midlands and the North.
Looking to the future, we now have 76 large schemes, of a total value of £70 million, in progress or firmly programmed. A further 53 schemes costing nearly £190 million are in detailed preparation. Today I am transferring from the preparation pool to the firm programme 11 major trunk road schemes, valued at £48 million.
Details of all these schemes and of the planned years of start are being made available, but I should like to make particular mention of those to which I attach the highest priority. These are the schemes for the sections of the M4 motorways between Tredegar Park and St. Mellons, Capel Llanilltern and Pencoed, the Pyle bypass between Stormy Down and Groes and the Pontardulais bypass, which is the final link between the Morriston bypass and the western terminal of the motorway at Pont Abraham.
Getting on with the major schemes is a substantial step forward towards our goal of carrying the M4 across South Wales. That is a task which we must complete with all speed if we are to 1147 ensure that Wales gets the full benefits offered by the completion of the M4 in England. But I must again make it clear that addition to the firm programme is without prejudice to my obligation to consider objections made under the statutory procedures.
So far as North Wales is concerned, in July last I announced my decision on the preferred route for the A55 trunk road between St. Asaph and Aber—Colcon—which has been the subject of a feasibility study. In August I made public the preferred route for the M4 outer bypass of Cardiff. The further work necessary before I can publish proposals formally is proceeding as quickly as possible. To assist those who may find difficulty in selling homes or property affected by my preferred routes, I have taken the necessary steps to enable me to purchase their interests in advance of requirements.
On 1st December I published proposals for the Carmarthen southern bypass. My decision on the line for the Pontardulais bypass was published last week. The opportunity was taken during the reconstruction of the Britannia Bridge to strengthen and modify the superstructure to enable the road deck to be added in the future. As hon. Members are aware, I have decided to bring forward the construction of links with the existing roads. This will bring forward the use of the bridge. That is greatly welcomed in North Wales.
The task of the road planners in the Welsh Office is not easy. On the one hand they are criticised for not building enough roads fast enough. On the other hand, it has now become almost standard form for any road proposal to be the subject of intense and sometimes bitter and highly organised public opposition in the area concerned. I do not complain about that. People are fully entitled to object and to defend their interests in all legal ways. All I would say is that we cannot have it both ways. One cannot have both roads built very fast and, at the same time, prolonged objection.
The Government have recently put forward proposals for providing better compensation for those affected by new construction works. These have been widely and warmly welcomed. The proposed arrangements enabling highway authori- 1148 ties to buy property which is adversely affected will be particularly beneficial, and the wider compensation arrangements will be a much-needed reform. In addition, I should like to mention the examination which has recently been put in hand by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment of ways of enabling the public to participate in discussion on the line of a new route before a ministerial preference has been indicated. I hope that this will have the effect of speeding up the processes.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
My right hon. and learned Friend has referred to the M4. Can he expand on a statement issued by the Welsh Office a little while ago and tell us what proportion of the remaining parts of the M4 westwards across South Wales will be of three carriageways in each direction, and what proportion will remain just two carriageways?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am sorry, but I cannot give a firm answer without notice. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be good enough to wait, and I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to give him the full details.
Since September one of the great changes in the history of public education has taken effect, the raising of the school-leaving age to 16. The preparation for this step demanded a large and coordinated effort of the partners in the educational service. The Government have made £10 million available in major building programmes to enable local education authorities to provide the additional buildings which will be required by next September to accommodate 16,000 additional pupils in the schools of Wales.
Wales, as befits our traditions in education, developed its primary school system very early, and long before the end of the last century had a well-developed pattern of all-age schools. By today a large proportion of these buildings require either major improvement or total replacement. As soon as I assumed responsibility for schools in Wales I trebled the allocations for improvements from El million to over £3 million a year. Since then, I have announced further increases in a five-year programme for primary school improvement that now 1149 totals over £24 million. Over 40 new schools are included in the current major building programme. These are in addition to the improvement projects which local education authorities are undertaking from their minor works allocations. The five-fold increase in the allocations for primary improvement is, however, but one of the elements which has resulted in the starts programme on school building totalling more than £.20 million this year compared with £11 million two years ago.
While this expansion has been taking place the Government have been reviewing the directions in which the education service is growing; its objectives and its priorities. The framework for expansion, announced in the White Paper, Cmnd. 5174, on 6th December, represents major initiatives which will be of great benefit to us in Wales. First, the extension of the improvement programme to include secondary schools is of real significance to Wales. It will enable local education authorities with a stock of old schools to be planning their improvement or replacement in the knowledge that the Wales allocation of £2 million for the two years 1975–77 is but the first phase of an expanding programme.
Hon. Members will have noticed that within the general strategy for the expansion of capital investment resources for primary and secondary education, we have not lost sight of the need for special schools for handicapped children.
The announcement in the White Paper of a nursery education programme means that appropriate nursery facilities will become much more widely available for our three- and four-year-olds. I have already, inside two years, programmed a very large increase in purpose-built nursery provision through the Urban Aid Programme, and local education authorities in Wales have greatly increased the number of under-fives they admit to their primary schools. Authorities in Wales deserve credit for the resources they have already made available to our under-fives. However, in the future they will be in a far better position to ensure that the provision is in keeping with the needs of this age group. The new programme starting in 1974 will give priority to the special needs of areas, both rural and urban, where the greatest benefits can 1150 be obtained from nursery education. For the first time, our rural areas will also command priority, and, having that programme linked with the primary improvement programme, these and other areas of static of declining population are offered a great opportunity to improve their school buildings.
Mr. Neil Mattock (Bedwellty)
Before the House runs away with the idea that those are great new initiatives in education, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall that it was his Government's Circular 8/60 that effectively put a stop to school building for the under-fives 12 years ago? The problem would not now be as great but for that. Against the background of the discussion he has just initiated and the way in which he has initiated it, will the Secretary of State give a formal explanation why he responded to the degree of only one-eighth to the request from Monmouthshire County Council for an expansion of 34 nursery schools?
§ Mr. Thomas
It is right that a Conservative Government were in office when Circular 8/60 was sent round to local education authorities. It was necessary then to assess the priorities. Those priorities were also assessed during the six years of the Labour Administration, when Circular 8/60 remained in force. I am very happy that today we have dealt with not only the rising school population but the other problems and have found the resources to enable us to get rid of Circular 8/60 and to add to our priorities. I shall shortly be sending round a new Circular replacing Circular 8/60.
As to the hon. Gentleman's other question, I think that he will find that Monmouthshire receives 50 per cent. of the nursery allocation for the whole of Wales in what is called Phase 7. In Phase 5 I was able to announce the biggest increase ever in nursery education in Wales under the Urban Aid Programme. We offered Monmouthshire County Council a considerable part of that, but unfortunately it was able to take on only 40. If it had been able to take on more, it would have been able to accommodate many more children than are now being accommodated. I am afraid that 50 per cent. of the allocation for the whole of Wales is the best I can offer Monmouthshire at present.
1151 I turn to the language of Wales. Wales is in unique possession of a precious asset. We have two languages living side by side: both have a long and distinguished history and both are living languages.
Welsh is, of course, a minority language and, in the modern world, minority languages face many difficulties. These have to be looked into with care and sympathetic understanding before there can be any approach to a policy which is truly equitable—fair to Welsh-speakers and non-Welsh-speakers—and which is designed to safeguard the future of the minority language.
Our policy is directed on that basis and our continuing aim is to provide a fertile soil where the Welsh language can grow and flourish naturally, but without impairing the significant rights and privileges of those who do not speak it. The success of this policy depends absolutely on the support of the community as a whole. It cannot prosper with only minority support, and certainly it will be doomed to failure if particular groups in the community, whether Welsh-speaking or non-Welsh-speaking, encourage dissension and bitterness.
We are a small nation. We cannot afford to be at each other's throats. I have been heartened by the indication of support for the language which I find from what I believe to be a big majority of reasonable and moderate people in Wales, both Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking. I trust that we shall all do our utmost to encourage the spread of that attitude.
Against that background, I should like to mention the action I am taking over the provision of bilingual traffic signs, which I announced recently. I do not propose to speak in detail on the matter today because I hope that the Welsh Grand Committee will turn its attention in the New Year to the subject of bilingual signs, and I look forward to further constructive debate.
I want to say how glad I am that there has been a healthy expression of different shades of opinion and especially pleased that the main response has been in temperate terms. This confirms my belief that the great body of reasonable people in Wales supports our purpose of demonstrating that both languages have 1152 their rightful place in the fabric of life of Wales.
In 1972 we have made the preparations for a chapter in the history of the United Kingdom and Wales that will be among the most exciting and challenging. The Government's policies for the regions make them prepared for Europe. I am quite convinced that Wales is prepared for Europe. My own Office is adapted to what is needed and I am confident we will meet the challenge together.—[Interruption.] We are going into Europe on 1st January and the preparation has been made since we had our last Welsh debate.
Finally, today marks the publication of the Government's Annual White Paper on Public Expenditure. Hon. Members who have seen it will have noticed on page 87, a summary of expenditures within my field of responsibility in Wales. I will summarise by saying that in our period in office we have made a very large increase in real terms. This shows that we are determined to improve the environment at a fast pace, to make Wales a good and attractive place to live in and to work in, and a place which new industrial and commercial enterprises—and tourists—will be glad to come to. We intend to tackle in the same determined way the other problems which are already with us or which may subsequently come before us, and we are therefore prepared for the challenge and opportunities of the New Year.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
On behalf of my hon. and right hon. Friends and before I go any further, may I offer the Secretary of State our felicitations on his silver wedding tomorrow. I like to get the kind things over first.
I shall be referring to the Welsh Office but may I refer first to the diffuse speech by the Secretary of State? It is very difficult, I know, when dealing with the whole panorama of Welsh Office activities not to be thin, not to be spread out so much that there is no depth in the speech. I understand the Secretary of State's difficulties and I do not want to be unkind to him. I shall examine his arguments as I proceed.
On education, I was deeply interested in the Secretary of State's report and we shall of course require a debate. We 1153 have not had a debate on education since the Secretary of State took office and the time is coming when we must have one. I listened with interest to the statement that he is continuing the rolling programme on roads which I bequeathed to him and I am content that he is doing his best to keep up to the targets which I announced when I was the Secretary of State.
He referred to the reorganisation of local government in Wales. Like him, I do not want to go into it in depth. I want only to say that it is quite clear that his proposals for Glamorgan and Cardiff cannot last. Clearly the frame-up in Glamorgan is already creating ill-feeling between the county borough of Cardiff—that is the new South Glamorgan—and the mid-Glamorgan authority. The Secretary of State must understand that our position on the question is unchanged.
On health I must tell the Secretary of State, as I said in the Welsh Grand Committee, that again his proposals will not last. We undertake to set up an elected council for Wales and one of the subjects for which it is likely to be responsible is health. The set-up proposed by the Secretary of State is the most undemocratic since the National Health Service was established. Far from getting nearer to the people, it is making administration more and more remote from those it seeks to serve. I wish to make a passing reference to the Celtic Sea exploration. All of us in Wales hope that we shall have the good news that the Scots had and the Secretary of State has the obligation as the man in authority to be ready should that good news come.
I was surprised that in the course of a long speech the Secretary of State made no reference to the dramatic decision yesterday of the Cardiff City Council not to proceed with the Hook road. He must realise that he cannot keep silent long, and the Secretary of State will know that it is imperative for him to make an early statement about the 1,200 houses which were to have been compulsorily purchased and pulled down and about the hundreds of houses near the proposed Hook road, repairs and renovations to which have had to wait or have gone by the board because it was expected that they would be involved. The Secretary of 1154 State has received his inspector's report after a long inquiry in Cardiff and I presume that when the Minister of State replies he will indicate the Secretary of State's views about this major decision which was so widely welcomed throughout the city.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I did not say anything because it would be improper for me to do so. The position at the moment is that I have received the inspector's report. The inquiry was held at the instance of the Cardiff Council and the inspector's report is now being considered. I have had no indication from the Cardiff Council that I should discontinue considering that report. It would therefore be wholly inappropriate for me to make any statement about it at the moment. For that reason the Minister of State will not be referring to it when he replies.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I am much obliged for that explanation but I should not be surprised if some of my hon. Friends were to say a word or two upon the subject, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) who, when he was the Member for Cardiff, North, fought such a valiant battle on behalf of the residents in that area on the question of the Hook road.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North)
Is it not true that when the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Wales he said that a north-south road was necessary and that any line other than the Hook road would be more expensive and probably more destructive of property?
§ Mr. George Thomas
If I said that, I would be very different from the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson).
§ Mr. George Thomas
In what has just been said. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) ought to be filled with as much pleasure as we are now that the Hook road has been thrown out. I accept what the Secretary of State said. At an appropriate time we shall return to this subject.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I never cease to be amused by the Secretary of State who clutches at straws and feathers.
§ Mr. George Thomas
The answer is what the hon. Gentleman said. I sent a letter saying that this was one of the difficulties facing us. I also held on to my right to reject the Hook road. That was my position, clear and simple.
I pay tribute, as I do each Welsh Day, to those dedicated men and women who work for Wales in the Welsh Office. They do a difficult job. They have the enormous comfort that they are anonymous to the man in the street. If people knew who it was that was involved in some of these matters their difficulties would be as great as those of the Secretary of State.
I pay a special tribute to the Information Division which is referred to in paragraphs 44 to 46. This division serves the Secretary of State well. I see that 260 news stories were issued to 100 countries making Wales known all over the world. It is a wonderful example of people making bricks without straw. How they have got 260 stories out of the Welsh Office in the past 12 months boggles my imagination.
The Information Division is responsible for translating forms, leaflets, booklets and other official publications into Welsh. No one should underestimate its difficulties here. Critics of Welsh-language translations abound in the Principality. They lurk in our colleges and our pulpits, waiting to pounce on a mistake made by someone in the Welsh Office over the spelling of a Welsh word or the choice of another.
I agree with every word that the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke about the necessity for the right attitude towards the question of the Welsh language. This is not a party matter and both sides of the House have leant over backwards to help those seeking to succour and foster the language. That is not to say that we have to be mealy mouthed about those who are damaging the language by their antics. I am the wrong sort to be mealy mouthed. It is not my temperament. I grew up in Tonypandy and I never quite forgot that to be quiet when we see manifest wrong is to be wrong ourselves.
1156 It is a sheer impossibility to cover the whole area of Welsh Office activity today—agriculture and forestry, ports, industry and employment, health, housing, local government, social services and even ancient monuments. We have to be selective and I propose to concentrate on three main issues. I do not know why hon. Members look at me when I refer to ancient monuments. I am 25 years younger than my old friend S. O. Davies—I warn the House. There is no need for false hopes in that direction.
The report is already six months out of date. If we had discussed this report last June we would have been dealing with matters which were a year old. Now we come to subjects that are stone cold. The statistics have little relevance to our problems today but they have a lesson for us, which is why I shall be quoting them.
The report deals with things very superficially. It is a mouse of a report. It is the thinnest report that has ever come from the Welsh Office. If it were not for the Welsh translation it would not fill the South Wales Echo. The right hon. and learned Gentleman claims in this masterpiece that it was abbreviated after his consultation with the Welsh Parliamentary Group. I know that he sent a letter in a personal capacity to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) who was then chairman of the Welsh Parliamentary Group. All hon. Members will know that this was not an issue for the Welsh Parliamentary Group. If the Secretary of State wants the views of the Oposition on the form of the annual report or any other issue he must talk to the Opposition. The Welsh Parliamentary Group is not to be used as a vehicle for him to bypass this side of the House. He must not try to shelter behind the skirt of the Welsh Parliamentary Group.
There are well-defined and well-established means by which the Government ascertain the views of the Opposition in this House. I want him to know that we take a poor view indeed of his seeking to use the Welsh Parliamentary Group. There is no difficulty for the right hon. and learned Gentleman if he wishes to know the views of his hon. and right hon. Friends. If he wants to consult the hon. and learned and lonely Member for Montgomery, he can easily contact 1157 him. When he wants to know the views of the Labour Party he will contact us. Where views on policies are concerned they are not expressed through the Welsh Parliamentary Group but through the Welsh Parliamentary Labour Group.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I am perfectly willing to apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. and right hon. Friends if the method I chose was the wrong one. Every Welsh hon. Member is also a member of the Welsh Parliamentary Group and I thought that was the appropriate way of dealing with the matter. I therefore wrote to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elysian Morgan) asking whether he would let me have his views and the views of the Welsh Parliamentary Group. If in future the right hon. Gentleman would prefer me to ignore the Welsh Parliamentary Group and go straight to the Welsh Labour Party and the Welsh Conservative Party and get in touch with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), I will do so. With respect, I think that he is making far too much of this.
§ Mr. George Thomas
Not at all. There are well-established means for the Government to know the views of the Opposition, and it was the views of the Opposition which were important in this matter. The Secretary of State's hon. Friends will line up behind him as they always do.
§ Mr. Hooson
This raises an important matter, because the Welsh Parliamentary Group has existed a very long time. Is the right hon. Gentleman virtually saying now that it should cease to exist?
§ Mr. George Thomas
What I am saying is that the usual channels shall not cease to exist. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has an obligation to move through the usual channels when discussing matters of this sort.
Before turning to the substance of the Welsh Office report I wish to reiterate our claim for a meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee every month. We are clearly to be denied the right to have Welsh Bills and Welsh measures. The Local Government Bill for Wales, despite the fact that we had our own White Paper, was tucked on to the end of the English Bill. Although we had a 1158 separate White Paper on reform of local government in Wales, it was tacked on to an English Bill. We are clearly going to be denied Welsh measures as long as the Conservative Party is in power. If we are also to be denied a reasonable amount of time on the Floor of the House—and no one in his wildest dreams can claim that Wales gets a reasonable amount of time on the Floor of the Chamber—we have every right to claim a monthly meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee.
Every time we ask for a meeting of the Grand Committee, the Government stall and play for time. It tickled me when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was boasting this afternoon of the number of meetings we have had of the Welsh Grand Committee. One would think he volunteered them. He knows the opposite is the truth. When it comes to finding excuses for delaying meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee the Secretary of State is an artist. Every man excels at something, and the Secretary of State is a prize winner when it comes to excuses for the Welsh Grand Committee not to meet—"It cannot meet this week, it must be next week".
There is a queue of urgent business waiting to be discussed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Bowen Report. It is one matter, but it is by no means the most important matter, facing us in Wales. We must get our priorities right. The Opposition have already indicated that we want to discuss the plight of our disabled people in Wales, and they come before road signs and the future of UWIST, which is by no means settled by the last statement of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Then there is the work of the Welsh Arts Council and its liberal donation to party political literature on behalf of the Welsh Nationalist Party. Then there are the nationalised industries in Wales, steel, coal, electricity and gas; the future of our transport system and our railway service; the education service and the Bowen report.
The work of the Welsh Office in this wide field cannot adequately be scrutinised by our present system, and, therefore, the Welsh Grand Committee must be made more effective. The time has come for Welsh Estimates and Welsh Accounts to be submitted to the Grand 1159 Committee for detailed examination. Only in this way can we probe effectively into the activities of the Secretary of State.
I would like to see the Grand Committee treated as a Select Committee with power not only to send for persons and papers but also to appoint specialist committees to deal with special subjects. Hitherto it could fairly be claimed that the Welsh Office was too new a creature to be subjected to these demanding processes, but that time has gone; it is now a major Department, and it must stand on its own two feet and it must be treated accordingly. I say to the Welsh people that a Labour Government will change the status of the Welsh Grand Committee. We will give it teeth. We regard this as a natural development in Parliamentary procedure and one which will give to Wales greater control over its own affairs, without any nonsense about separation from the rest of the United Kingdom.
I turn to the major issues which cause us in Wales concern today. Like the Secretary of State, I put jobs and employment first; and the cost of living, covering food, rents, rates, housing, land; the environment; and our social services. On these the annual review has an air of unreality.
It deals with unemployment in 1971 when we are standing on the threshold of 1973. Indeed, 1971 was a bad year for Wales. The Government had not changed their mind then about investment grants. The Government were still obstinate in their attitude of refusing investment grants because the Labour Government had given them. The Government's brutal rejection of our policies has cost Wales dearly.
Long-term unemployment in Wales is enough to break the heart of anyone with feeling. In Central Wales, since June 1970, there has been a 25 per cent. increase in the number of people unemployed for more than six months and up to a year. In West Wales, the number has increased by nearly 30 per cent. in long-term unemployment from six months up to a year. In industrial North-East Wales the increase of long-term unemployment is nearly 50 per cant. In industrial South Wales there is an actual increase of 50 per cent., with 11,644 1160 more of our kinfolk having to endure the sour taste of long-term unemployment. In North-West Wales the increase in long-term unemployment since the right hon. and learned Gentleman took over control has been 100 per cent. He ought to be ashamed to go to the north-west area, which he knows particularly well.
Faced with these appalling figures the Secretary of State's answer was to put a special gloss in his report in which, on page 12, reporting on a year of such dismal and dreadful unemployment, he said:There was an increase in the estimated value of building grants offered during the year (£4.2 million as compared with £3.3 million) and a substantial increase in the value of operational grants offered to certain new undertakings in the Welsh Special Development Areas (£1.0 million as compared with £0.4 million). There was, however, a reduction in the value of offers of loans and removal grants (£1.5 million in total as compared with £3.4 million in 1970).Part of the secret of producing this slim document is that the Secretary of State has not to put in last year's figures or those of the year before. It amounts to a fraudulent balance sheet to talk in this way. The operational grants which were in operation when he took over responsibility two and a half years ago were 30 per cent. higher than what he is boasting of here.
If the Government had not fooled about with investment grants, by now the figure would have been at least 100 per cent. more than it was in our time. It is not the level at which we left off that the Government should aim at, but it is now an attractive target. That level should have been trebled by now if the normal advance on building grants had continued. The Government inherited from us a programme of £4.4 million a year; yet the report boasts, as though it is good news for Wales, that now the figure is back up to £4.2 million. The Secretary of State has a long way to go to catch up with where he began.
The Secretary of State has been marching backwards on economic policy ever since he has been in office. Loans and removal grants in 1972 were £1.5 million. In June 1970, they were running at the rate of £5.3 million. No one can charge the Secretary of State with not trying to provide some comfort. He scrapes the barrel to find some nourishment for us. 1161 He puts in his report on page 10, as part of the good news:among the newcomers were some from Europe, including a Swiss matchbox maker and a French manufacturer of toiletries".I will tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman what is wrong. We welcome anything that comes, but we want men's jobs for men; we want craftsmen's jobs for craftsmen. We want jobs that will add to the dignity of our people who have a skill and an ability that have been wasted by the Conservative Government. I compare the welcome that the Secretary of State gives to French toiletries with the welcome that I was able to give to Parke Davis, which, lock, stock and barrel, moved a major business to Pontypool; to Borg-Warner, which brought its engineering to Port Talbot; to some of the greatest names in the world that came when there was confidence in the Welsh economy.
Even now as we meet in this House there are 13,000 more Welsh men and women in the dole queue than there were in 1970. Heaven knows, I felt awful about the 33,000 unemployed when I left office. That was the lowest figure for six years and the trend was downwards. Immediately the Conservative Government reversed our policies, unemployment started to gallop upwards again, and there is no formula to measure the misery of people who cannot get a job.
It is against this setting of 46,000 of our fellow Welsh men and women unemployed that the Government have spent months agonising whether they should approve further massive redundancies in the steel industry. It is not as though all other industry is booming. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South East (Mr. Callaghan) and I have had a cri de coeur from the Rover factory in Cardiff, where 170 white-collar workers face redundancy. Probably the hon. Member for Cardiff, North received the same letter. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has already raised in the House the terrible anxiety which is felt about the redundancies likely to result from ICI's heartless move from Pontypool to the north.
Yesterday in the House the Secretary of State pleaded that the Government must be given time to consider the social implications of the British Steel Corporation's proposals. Of course, we want 1162 them to be considered properly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman did not tell the House the exact date when the Government had these proposals. My feeling is that they have had them for many months, and it is only the fact that Ministers cannot agree amongst themselves that has caused the delay. He should give my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool the assurance for which he asked.
The facts are known. Shotton, Ebbw Vale, Cardiff and Newport steel workers for far too long have lived in fear. I warn the Secretary of State that in the 1970s the Conservative Government will not get away with what the Tories did to Wales in the 1930s. There is a different mood abroad. We have a bigger vested interest in the steel industry than has any other part of the United Kingdom, and it is the Secretary of State's heavy responsibility to represent this within the Cabinet. We all know that the Secretary of State is in no doubt about the depth of feeling in the Principality. I do not envy him his responsibility, but he is there, he must carry it and he must win the day for Wales or he will be unworthy of the name of the Welsh watchdog in the Cabinet.
Before leaving the question of unemployment, I want to refer to the continued tragic drift from our South Wales valleys to the coastal belt. The statistics make depressing reading. Another 30,000 have left the central and western valleys to go down to the coastal area. That is not an act of God; it is not some irresistible force of nature that cannot be stopped. It can be stopped, and therefore, it must be stopped. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil in the discussion on the Heads of the Valleys during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill pointed out that the land is there, the people are there and that investment, drive and energy are all that is required. My advice to the Secretary of State is to forget Llantrisant and remember the valleys, to invest the money in communities that are rich in culture and experience rather than frittering it away on this new town.
I turn to housing and land. In two-and-a-half years the Government have created a nightmare for house seekers in the Principality by their early frivolity.
1163 In executing the Land Commission they gave the go-ahead to every greedy land speculator. The cost of land has not got out of control by accident. No mysterious trouble has come upon us to cause the cost of land suddenly to gallop upwards. The controls over the cost of land, controls that could have kept down the cost of land, were deliberately thrown away by the Government. A Labour Government will stop this runaway increase in the cost of land. We shall do it by taking into public ownership all the land we need for housing and urban development, and we shall stop the present rackets in the sale of land.
In the Western Mail on 25th November I saw this advertisement:Town of Carmarthen. For sale. Residential building land, 13 acres. Within walking distance of town centre, with outline planning permission for residential development.Someone, without building a house or contributing a brick or stone, will make a fortune out of that because he has outline planning permission from the local authority. I call it sheer robbery of the public purse. This is what is adding so much to the cost of housing development.
Consider the cost of houses in Wales today after 2½ years of Conservative Government. In Caerphilly a three-bedroomed end-of-terrace property—we all know the sort of thing at the end of a long street—offers at over £5,000; at Laleston a small one-bedroomed cottage—one bedroom !—300 years old, £3,500: at Llanbradoch a chalet bungalow, with a dinette/fitted kitchen, £7,200; at Cowbridge a semi-detached chalet bungalow £11,250. We are arriving at the Tory Eldorado where the profiteer can do what he likes and where capitalist morality, which believes that it does not matter how one makes money so long as money is made, is given full sway. This is what we are seeing in houses and property in general.
At Corntown, an attractive little place near Ogmore-on-Sea, ½ acre plots have been advertised at over £6,000 per plot. Before people even begin to pay for the house, they must pay £6,000 for half an acre of land. In the city of Cardiff in the constituency of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North a three-bedroomed semidetached house is offered at £13,950. Only two years ago that house would 1164 have been £4,000 cheaper than it is today. Then at Morriston there is a bungalow for sale at offers around £25,000.
The cost of houses has priced the ordinary worker out of the market. In the White Paper entitled "A Fair Deal for Housing" the Government said that their first objective wasa decent home for every family at a lance within their means".The present Government made this promise not only before but after the election. The White Paper was produced after the Government had been elected and had taken full measure of the whole problem.
Gazumping has added to the general misery of the situation. If people cannot buy their own homes—and the Welsh people take a pride in home ownership, as the figures reveal—they must find a house to rent. Again the Government clobber tenants as they clobber house buyers. How many tenants now pay higher rents solely because of the iniquitous Housing Finance Act? The queue of Welsh families seeking rented property gets longer every day. What hope does the Secretary of State hold out for those people? In the housing debate which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) on the Consolidated Fund Bill the Minister of State replied at length and followed his habitual technique. He ignored the arguments and adopted his usual steamroller technique which brings him to the end of a debate—but I warn him that it will take him no further. The people outside the House are not fools. They read the reports of our debates.
The Minister of State got through a long speech without once referring to rents or rates—as though he had not heard of them. He believes that by ignoring an issue it will go away. I have news for him. The people of Wales will neither forget nor forgive the cruel rents which the Government have pushed upon us.
What of those who cannot afford to buy a house because of the Government's policy? What of those who cannot get a council house because they are in a long queue? What will happen to the provision of council houses in Wales? Everybody knows that it is only local authorities which build houses for rent. Private enterprise has opted out: it is 1165 more concerned with the large profits which it can make in selling houses.
The number of houses started in the first two quarters of 1972 was 20 per cent. lower than the figure in the first two quarters of 1971. The Government cannot blame Labour for that, although so far they appear to have blamed the Labour Government for almost everything that has gone wrong. The number of houses under construction in the first two quarters of this year was a thousand fewer than in the first two quarters of 1971, and 2,488 fewer than in the first two quarters of 1970 which was our poorest year in terms of numbers, a year about which the Conservatives have in the past complained so bitterly.
What about houses completed? Is there any comfort to be found in that figure? In the first two quarters of this year 1,042 fewer houses were completed than in the first two quarters of last year. So we see that there have been fewer houses started, fewer under construction and fewer completions—a disastrous outlook.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I ought to have learned by now that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) does not make a useful contribution. No doubt he will have his chance to make his own speech. I shall only tell him that we shall repeal the Housing Finance Act and introduce a truly fair system.
A few words about mid-Wales. I am sorry that the Government has left such a proliferation of bodies to deal with mid-Wales. When we have the chance, we shall create the equivalent of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. In the way the Scots have done it, we shall create it for mid-Wales. We shall bring in all the bodies which are there now, with the powers which are there. I believe that in this way we can do something to stem the depopulation which has started again in the past two years but which had stopped in our time.
1166 What of our prospects? The outlook is depressing, despite what the Secretary of State said. The anticipated inflation for the next 12 months is 9 per cent. Everyone in the country knows that money will be worth still less in a year's time than it is today. Food costs will climb still higher, causing pressure for higher wages. The director general of the CBI anticipates that our growth rate will fall to 3 per cent. House and land costs show no sign of levelling out, and, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out last week, the production index industries show an alarming decline in the number of people they employ.
It is time that the nervous hands of the Secretary of State were taken off our controls. When the right hon. Gentleman assumed office he asked us to judge him by results. The results speak for themselves. How much more have we to endure? He has been in control now for two and a half years, and the time has come for him to go. For Wales, the sooner the better.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
My interruption during the speech of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) was a valid one. He quoted certain statistics and referred to the number of houses under construction in the first two quarters of this year. He made a big point that they showed a reduction. However, when one looks at the third quarter of the year one sees that the figure is 1,900 more than last year. It was a perfectly valid intervention, It was absurd of the right hon. Gentleman to say that it was a worthless intervention. Indeed, it was less than worthy of the right hon. Gentleman's position on the Opposition Front Bench.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydvil)
Was the hon. Gentleman present at Question Time on Monday when the Minister of State told the House that the number of council houses completed this year will total just over 4,000? If that is right, it is the lowest figure since 1947.
§ Mr. Gower
I was making a direct reply to the statement made by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West. I was not mincing my words. It was a fair reply to the right hon. Gentleman's statement.
1167 I have in my possession the housing figures for the third quarter of this year. The right hon. Gentleman quoted figures showing a reduction in the first two quarters. However, the figures for the third quarter of this year show an increase of 1,900 over the same quarter last year.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) for giving way. In doing so he is returnning good for evil. I quoted the first two quarters, and he was correct to quote the third quarter. I ought to have treated his intervention differently. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) is also right to point out that the Minister of State told us on Monday what he anticipated to be the figures for the year.
§ Mr. Gower
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. He now confirms that my intervention was a pertinent and proper one, even though he said that it was not at the time that I made it.
The right hon. Gentleman made what he called a complaint that the report that we are debating was late coming out. It was always thus. It was when he was Secretary of State. He also complained that we discussed Welsh affairs too rarely in this House. That, too, was the same when he was Secretary of State. Indeed, probably we discussed Welsh affairs even less often than we do now.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to make the strong plea for Welsh legislation to be debated by the Welsh Grand Committee. I wonder how many times we had Welsh Bills brought before this House when he was Secretary of State. I think that it hardly ever happened. I can recall one or two Private Members' Bills, one of them promoted by me and one of my colleagues, and they were discussed in the Welsh Grand Committee. That is about all.
I want to reiterate the right hon. Gentleman's thanks to the Welsh Office. 1168 I express my own thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to my hon. Friend the Minister of Stare and to all their staff not only for the services that they render in their day-to-day administrative work but for the careful and painstaking way in which they reply to correspondence, complaints and representations which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have to make from time to time. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Welsh Office is a comparatively new Department of State, but this part of its work is done with great care. I express my sincere thanks, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will convey them to his staff.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the steel industry, and in addition we had an intervention from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). We on these benches deem this a matter of outstanding importance and of serious concern to Wales. As my right hon. Friend is aware, for historical and other reasons this industry is perhaps more important in Wales than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom, and I express the hope that at no time will my right hon. Friend refrain from emphasising this point to his colleagues in the Cabinet. Whereas some scaling down of the industry in some parts of England might not be quite so injurious, in Wales it would be extremely injurious. Of course modernisation must come, but I hope that these social considerations will be given tremendous weight.
I want mainly to deal with matters other than those which have been referred to so far. I place special emphasis on the problem of hospitals in South-East Glamorgan. We all recognise the advantages and benefits of what is regarded as the kingpin of the hospital service in South-East Glamorgan; namely the new multi-million pound University Hospital at Heath, Cardiff. Everyone recognises the advantages and benefits which accrue from it, including its modern structure, its modern equipment, the concentration of specialist-consultant ability, the close relationship with the medical school, and the availability of all nursing and ancillary staffs. But there are problems associated with it which have been brought to the attention of Ministers from time to time in this and past Governments. I wish to express again in the 1169 presence of my hon. Friend the Minister of State how important these are in the area.
Let me mention again what has happened there. We have seen the virtual closure of all hospitals in Barry and the surrounding district. This has placed great strain on ambulance services in Barry and adjacent places like Rhoose, Dinas-Powis and Sully, and ad hoc arrangements have had to be made by the health authority, Glamorgan County Council, to assist where problems arise with ambulances and the conveyance of patients and relations to hospital. In addition, one has to bear in mind the difficulties of relatives who have to travel considerable distances at all times.
Another disadvantage has been the closure of the maternity hospital in the area. Fears have been expressed that this may lead to a return to an undesirable growth in the number of domiciliary childbirths rather than births in maternity hospitals. Then there has been the closure of the accident and surgical hospital at Barry and the beginning of an experimental community hospital.
We are concerned that there should soon be adequate out-patient services for this area. Such services are at present in the Amy Evans Out-patient Hospital at Barry, but we have been promised a full range of out-patient services at Llandough hospital at Penarth. I query a reference to a limited out-patient service made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State in answer to a Question in this House. There is concern about that answer because the original promise was for a full range of out-patient services. We want these to be provided as soon as possible.
There is also a need for an accident and emergency unit at Llandough or Sully hospitals or in one of the hospital buildings in the Barry area.
The population of the new District 2 of South Glamorgan—Penarth, Barry, part of Cardiff rural, part of Cowbridge rural and the borough of Cowbridge—is considerably in excess of 100,000 and expands during the summer months to a much larger population.
There are also the industrial needs of the area for medical services. My hon. Friend will be aware that a considerable number of factories—BP Chemicals, 1170 Midland Silicones, the power stations and cement works along the coast of the Bristol Channel, the docks at Barry, the RAF Station at St. Athan and the Glamorgan Airport at Rhoose—have special needs at different times.
This area has had the possibly most rapid growth of population in the whole of Wales. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West referred to the flight to the coast. I do not know his reasons. However, I warn him against being too hasty in assuming that this is always due to pressure for jobs. It is not. Many people like to move near the sea, particularly those in retirement, and the population figures are sometimes increased in that way. Certainly this is an area where the population has grown and is growing rapidly.
I now turn to the problem of the hospital at Sully. It is an admirably sited, well-designed hospital building with an expanded nurses' home. For many years it was a well known tuberculosis hospital. Later it had the addition and development of chest and cardiac surgery. Under the dedicated leadership of Dr. H. M. Foreman, the medical superintendent, and a combination of excellent medical, nursing and other staff, this hospital has developed what can only be described as an international reputation.
All is now changed. I have recently been to the hospital. All there seemed to be dominated by anxiety and uncertainty. Where there was optimism a few years ago, now there is only despondency. I met doctors, nurses and administrative personnel who expressed their dismay at the turn of events. Some nurses explained that for family and personal reasons they could not contemplate work elsewhere. They have obligations which mean that they can give their services only in this area.
I sincerely hope my hon. Friend realises that what is at risk is a splendidly sited hospital with excellent equipment which could still be a tremendous asset to the hospital service in Wales. My constituents and others who are employed at the hospital sincerely hope that the plans for it will be reconsidered. Indeed, throughout my constituency, south of Cardiff, there is dismay and even anger about these matters. People want the Welsh Hospital Board and the Welsh Office to reconsider the plans for these areas. They 1171 call for plans which will give Sully hospital a future perhaps as spendid as its past, and for the early provision of accident and full out-patient services at the Llandough hospital as well. I hope that my hon. Friend will press upon the Welsh Hospital Board how urgently these matters are regarded in the area.
Many doctors and others in the area have asked, as an alternative, for an integrated hospital consisting of the Llandough and Sully hospitals and perhaps the hospital buildings at Barry as well. I hope that this alternative will also be considered. My constituents do not want all the major hospital services to be concentrated in the University Hospital of Wales. They certainly do not want only that hospital and a few periphery hospitals with specialties. They emphasise that the hospital buildings at Llandough and Sully are now among the best in the principality. I appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend, my hon. Friend and the Welsh Hospital Board to look at these matters with great care.
I turn now to the question of bilingual traffic signs, which were referred to by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West. I believe that this is a matter for a whole day's debate in the Welsh Grand Committee. We need to consider this matter against the background of the many steps which have already been taken to promote the growth and use of, and fluency in, the Welsh language by more people in Wales. These are our objectives on both sides of this House.
Against that background I endorse the decision on principle by my right hon. and learned Friend. However, I urge some caution in this matter. After all, the primary purpose of road traffic signs relates to road safety. I hope that that will not be forgotten. It should be regarded as sacrosanct. I call for an emphasis on principle: that, wherever possible, road traffic signs throughout the United Kingdom, let alone in Wales, should be symbolic. Wherever possible, they should do without any words at all. The fewer words used in traffic signs the better. The more signs we have with symbols—for example, a lorry on its side—the better. Where language is to be used, whether Welsh or English, or both, no final detailed decision should be made without the most careful consideration 1172 after reference to the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, the motoring organisations and others who are expert in this sphere. I sincerely hope that this will not be a divisive matter in Wales. Sometimes I fear that it may be, but I trust that it will not.
I hope that those who are deeply and passionately concerned about the future of the Welsh language will not use this as a method to antagonise those who are not fluent in Welsh. It is a difficult matter upon which people are unduly sensitive at times, but that, too, is understandable. I hope that the decision will be arrived at only after mature consideration.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West ended in a mood of pessimism. He seemed to think that there were no hopeful signs. We must look at the pertinent remarks by my right hon. and learned Friend. There has been high unemployment, but there are some encouraging signs. Each month since August there has been some decline. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman takes satisfaction from that situation. Indeed, there has been a decline in the last two months, a period of the year when there is seldom a decline, and when there is invariably an increase for seasonal reasons.
How impressive it is that against that background there has been some lessening in the total number of unemployed and an increase during this period in notified vacancies. I am not sure how one can bring the person who is looking for a job to a vacancy. It is remarkable at present that, although there are many people unemployed, the newspapers in Wales seem to be carrying more advertisements for jobs than I can ever recall. The number of advertisements of vacancies is considerable.
If any hon. Member doubts this, I would point out that it is also a strange feature—
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
Does the hon. Member take any note at all of statistics, which clearly show that there were fewer vacancies in Wales in November than there were in October? These are Government statistics.
§ Mr. Gower
I was saying, if the hon. Gentleman would listen, that I have seldom seen so many jobs advertised in 1173 the Press. Another strange feature of the present position is that, if anyone seeks to get someone to do a job, it is very difficult to do so—[Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman doubts this, let him advertise for some one to repair his roof or even to do some gardening work. It is extraordinarily difficult to obtain such a person.
§ Mr. Gower
That is not the answer. If one inserts an advertisement, one gets very few replies of any kind, whether or not the amount of payment is prescribed. No, I feel that, basically, there are many encouraging signs about the Welsh economy. Those who are pessimistic must be in the minority.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that Wales, like many parts of the United Kingdom, has much to gain from our association with the EEC. The potential and the industrial opportunities are there. Certainly, Wales cannot contract out of the economic prosperity or otherwise of the United Kingdom as a whole. If there are opportunities for our industrialists, they must surely reside in one of the richest markets in the world, which is only a short distance away. It is there, on the other side of the Channel, and Welsh industrialists and those employed in Wales must surely benefit as much as anyone else in the United Kingdom.
I see great opportunities. I am not an inveterate optimist, but I feel that we are on the verge of opportunity. It is up to our people to take advantage of it.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil McBride (Swansea, East)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) in his arguments, except in so far as they relate to the monstrosity of the Common Market, if time permits later in my speech.
I was struck by the fact that the Secretary of State made no mention of integration of transport, a matter to which he, the Minister of State and the Government are now committed, or, as was proved yesterday, they would have to go.
We are concerned in Swansea and all over the Principality about the possible cutting of railway services. Any suggestion of pruning the rail network in 1174 Wales will be bitterly opposed. Coupled with the cutting of passenger services, another menacing factor is looming: the threat in Wales to the goods marshalling yards and the goods service facilities.
Since the Principality, clearly, cannot trust this Government, this is an appropriate moment, I feel, to issue a warning against the possible reduction of these yards and facilities. The warning is timely, for three excellent reasons: first, the effect on the finances of British Rail; second, the financial effects on the British Transport Docks Board; and, third, the general detrimental effect on the Welsh economy.
British Rail lost money last year, and the prospects for the current year cannot be described as favourable. Nor do future prospects look good. But my fraternal brothers who are employed in British Rail criticise the Government's emphasis on motorways, bearing in mind their commitment to transport integration. With a cost of £1 million per mile on average for motorways, they believe that, while new roads are necessary, a proper balance should be struck and a close examination made, so that proper and equal attention can be given to the Welsh rail network, in passenger and freight services.
Vested interests are campaigning for new roads, but the railways are losing traffic which they are suited to carry. This poses a serious threat to the ports owned by the British Transport Docks Board. Of course I fight for my constituents. I was elected to do so, and the port of Swansea is in my constituency.
Of the traffic going through the port last year, only 34 per cent. of the exports arrived there by rail. Ministers say that they attend to Welsh affairs. My charge is that they do not. Steel, tin plate and aluminium exports amounted to 420,000 tons, and only 189,000 tons was carried by rail. Of 83,000 tons of similar imported goods, only 26,000 tons was carried by rail.
From one local colliery, 63 lorries go each day, carrying 20 tons each to Manchester, Birmingham and London—traditional rail traffic. From another, 70 lorries load daily because it is impossible to secure wagons. As a result, in my constituency the Jersey Marine Marshalling Yard has been demoted and the Eastern Freight Depot, employing 170 men, is threatened with closure.
1175 In 1970, nearly all the 161,000 tons of steel products to Port Talbot docks was carried on British Rail from Abbey Steelworks, but now Port Talbot docks is closed. Most of the traffic of this nature now goes to Swansea by road. Of the 240,000 tons of coal imported through Port Talbot last year, only 40,000 tons went by British Rail.
In addition, there is an inability to secure wagons for tin plate, sulphur and stone. This has been a matter of great concern in recent weeks. The port of Swansea is publicly owned and I want it to be viable, as I am sure the Minister of State does—unlike his right hon. and learned Friend, who said that public ownership is a fiasco.
The time has come for Wales to have a properly integrated transport system, always remembering that the Government are now committed to this. Integration is necessary because these two publicly-owned industries should work as one. I will tell the Minister in a minute the details, if he is asking for information.
In my view, the arguments are overwhelming. Transport should be integrated to maintain continuity of employment and the viability of South Wales ports, including that of my own home city, and the general economic life of the city and the whole Principality. I am concerned to find that these things are happening.
I have stated my view, which probably the Minister has read, but I will repeat it. If we are to attract industry to Swansea, in addition to the fine passenger service between Swansea and London we must have a freight service of equal excellence, guaranteeing swift passage of goods between Swansea docks and all her parts of the country. If reorganisation of freight traffic takes place in addition to the threats posed by the passenger traffic in Strasbourg, to which the hon. Gentleman is committed, we shall have to look closely at this matter. The result of taking traffic from Swansea and placing it in Margam, despite the fact that Port Talbot docks are closed, could make the port, the second city of Wales, become a backwater. Is that the Government's policy?
In the rest of the Principality the continuity of rail and freight services is a 1176 matter for worry. We look to the Government to provide the answer. I invite both Ministers, as is fashionable now, to stand Tory policies on their heads—they are experts in that, being political acrobats of the first water—and to integrate transport in Wales.
We read yesterday in The Times that the Government have approved a £65 million grant for a scheme designed to provide the backbone to Tyneside's public transport system for the 1980s based on a fast and frequent rail link integrated with bus, road and parking facilities. The Minister of State is party to that. He is committed and he cannot say "No". Consequently, with the right conferred on me, massively, at a free, democratic election, this is a moment at which I can say that I applaud the decision to integrate transport in the North-East. But what is good for the North-East must be good for Wales. My trade union friends who met last night in Swansea are saying the same thing. It is up to the hon. Gentleman to match their assertion with his. This precedent must be followed.
I can say without presumption—I think that I carry my right hon. and hon. Friends with me—that when we consider it right to make a grant for the North-East we are talking of an area. We are considering Wales today. Wales is a country and a people. It is significant that unemployment is still high in Wales. We have heard the hon. Member for Barry talking about unemployment. That is a matter upon which I am an expert, and about which, with all generosity, the hon. Gentleman knows nothing. The most serious threat facing Wales, which was stated by the Secretary of State in the green masterpiece, is that the metal-producing industries—for example, the steel industry—and the chemical industries contain the highest unemployment. If capital goods manufactured in Wales, and flowing from Wales to swell our exports, are not being manufactured in sufficient quantity, we have to look at the prospects which will face us. We have been told about the opportunities in the Common Market. Neither the Secretary of State nor the Minister of State can or will tell us about these. They have the reports in the Welsh Office: but they will not tell us because 1177 the reports are not good. The hon. Gentleman is on the Front Bench and can intervene now to tell the Principality. The challenge could not be more obvious. But his feet will no come off the Dispatch Box.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. David Gibson-Watt)
There have been many things in the hon. Gentleman's speech on which I could have intervened, but I was holding myself in. Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what he is really worried about?
§ Mr. McBride
I can only assume, with the greatest respect, that the hon. Gentleman is politically deaf. I have been talking of many things that are worrying me. His right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is present. He has not told the people of Wales what he has learned about the Common Market. Why does he not tell them? We are looking for regional policies. How much money will be available, and what are the prospects? Time and again we have asked, and time and again the right hon. Gentleman has stalled. He is refusing now.
The present Government have created a climate of no confidence in industry in Wales. This has had a drastic effect on industry. By refusing to pursue a policy of coherently planned investment, the Government have seen that without a systematic injection of new capital into the bloodstream of industry there are no virility-breeding properties such as we would see in expanding industries. In the television programme "Outlook" on Sunday evening the Secretary of the Confederation of British Industry said that investment was dropping by 9 per cent. this year in the Principality.
Having secured election on abrasive policies, this abrasive Tory Government now see that many of them are wrong. For dogmatic reasons they removed investment grants and re-introduced them later under another name; but until a fortnight ago only 18 applications under the Industry Act had been made in Wales. That is a Government figure and it ought to be correct. The Government were warned of the dangers. On steel they have to match up or get out. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) when he says that this generation will not accept unemployment.
1178 In 12 days' time Wales will be unwillingly dragged into the Common Market. The right hon. Gentleman cannot now say to the House that he has complete support in the Principality, because he knows that that would be untrue. Joining this customs union may be a good thing, but we must remember that it is no more than a customs union and no less than that. For the Secretary of State, this is the moment to tell Wales how it will benefit. What are these opportunities when translated in terms of advantages and jobs, and how much money will go into industry? He should also tell the Principality how much money will flow out of Wales. With Paris as the centre of the circle and the Low Countries as the edge, will Wales benefit? I challenge the right hon. and learned Gentleman to answer that question. He has been singularly reticent on this matter. Wales will judge by that.
We must view all these matters—the unrestricted export of capital, and all the rest—with great seriousness. This is a time when the Secretary of State must place the interests of Wales paramount, above party dogma. So far, he has rested on the latter. What annual total sum of money will come to Wales from EEC regional policy? Will aid under the Industry Act be considered opaque and inhibiting. Will it be detrimental to the EEC competition laws? Will aid provided under the Industry Act be transparent and permissible? The Secretary of State knows these terms. His officials have told him. It is up to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to tell Wales. He cannot dodge that.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I know that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) takes an enormous interest in the European Economic Community. Is he suggesting that today I should tell Wales what the effect of a regional policy in Europe is going to be when Europe has not yet decided what the regional policy is? There will be no final decision until the end of the year, during which time Britain will be part of Europe and will be negotiating that policy, while Wales will have its own voice in those negotiations.
§ Mr. McBride
The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot deny that he has certain information. It is his clear duty to make available to everyone in Wales the extent of that information. He 1179 is a legal expert. I put the matter this way, speaking as a layman about legal matters. If a company issued such a prospectus it would find itself in the courts because the prospectus would not be based on sound corroborative facts, and Wales has a right to base its judgment on information supplied to ascertain the proper facts.
One thing is paramount in Wales. Men and women have the right to work, and will prosecute that right vigorously in the face of inflation and the incompetence of Government Ministers. This generation will not accept unemployment. I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West in that view. It is right not to accept the permanent suffering of that social disease inflicted by an incompetent Government bereft of energy and drive and bankrupt of political ideas.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There are a great many hon. Members who wish to catch my eye. It will be possible for them to do so only if hon. Members make short speeches.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
I trust that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. McBride) will forgive me if I do not follow him too closely.
I want to speak about the last chance God has given the British—the opportunity that arises from the discovery off our shores of gas and oil. Up to now that has been an English or Scottish phenomenon. It is about to become a Welsh one, though I have no desire to speak in nationalistic terms, for it is a gift to the British, to us all. We have to face the fact that oil exploration off the Welsh coast will confront us with a completely new situation.
I do not apologise for repeating what I very recently said in my constituency, because my subject could well prove to be the most important single economic and social event since the first Industrial Revolution.
We have the experience of Scotland to guide us. My object is to ensure that Wales will learn and profit from that experience. My intention is to ensure that all who bear the burden of responsibility 1180 concentrate their minds upon this new situation with the urgency that it demands. Industrial strength depends upon physical resources as well as upon people and policy. The first Industrial Revolution was born not just out of enterprise, inventive genius and human sweat, but from the coal and iron we found under our hillsides.
At a time when the gross national product per head of population in this country is one of the lowest in the developed world it is hugely important that Britain should have discovered a new raw material base for industrial expansion.
In Scotland the Scottish Council is suggesting that the combination of deep water and oil, given the right policy and management decisions, could change the face of Scotland within a decade. If oil is discovered in the Celtic Sea the same could be true of Wales. We could then have a new springboard for the creation of self-generating and enduring growth.
Speaking at a time when we still do not know whether or not there is oil off the shore of Wales, this may be considered just wishful thinking. We are faced by the difficult dilemma of having to plan for something that may be just a mirage. Having spent a great deal of time talking to the oil men it is clear to me that the chances must be taken extremely seriously. I have seldom known cautious men to be so optimistic. Furthermore, the possibilities are so immense and the potential consequences so dramatic that we should be poised both to seize the opportunities and protect ourselves against the damaging consequences that are inherent in any revolutionary change.
The opportunities cover three distinct phases. The first we shall have anyway—a minimum of five years or so of exploration, demanding a wide range of services. The second, dependent upon the success of the first, is the development stage, probably lasting for several decades. The third, perhaps in the long run most crucial, has to be won—the exploitation of a significant share in a world-wide marine oil exploration enterprise worth perhaps £1,000 million a year. It is that last phase, involving the exploitation of a whole new range of technological skills, which must lie at the heart of the attempt to make this not just a 1181 passing phase but a new era of self-generating growth. To succeed we have to establish during the first and second phases—those now proceeding in the North Sea—a new technological base for British industry.
It is crucially important now that in Wales we should be identifying the opportunities and preparing to exploit them. That is why I am disappointed to hear from a representative of IMEG—the International Management and Engineering Group—that the report prepared for the Government, a version of which will be published in a few days, is directed entirely to the North Sea and will make no reference to Wales. It will contain information of general significance. It is imperative that at an early stage a supplementary report be commissioned covering the Principality.
I was glad that during his tour of Pembrokeshire on Friday the Minister for Industrial Development undertook to consider that matter. Although the Pembrokeshire County Council will shortly be going ahead with the publication of a shopping list and a register of local firms, that is not the kind of task that can be left to a county council, however energetic.
I was also disappointed by the CBI Report, "Opportunity for Welsh Industry", which is altogether too hesitant in its identification of the opportunities when it suggests that oil offers no cure to the unemployment problems of Scotland and Wales. It seems to me profoundly important that we should escape from that kind of approach and see whether it is in our power to create a situation in which the discovery of oil could provide the answer to our unemployment problems and offset the decline of steel and coal.
It is not just a matter of enlarged service industries and some industrial diversification. We should not aim to be mere fabricators. We cannot leave the Americans and the French to design and build new subsea equipment for work at great depths, though it is the Americans and the French who are doing so at present. We cannot leave the Dutch and the Italians to build the pipelaying barges, as we have done. Of the 35 or 40 drilling rigs being built round the world a few are French, most are American, 1182 and none are British, though Marathon is now starting to construct them on the Clyde. Our shipyards cannot content themselves with building supply vessels. The IMEG report is a start, but the Government will have a key role to play in Wales in identifying need, stimulating orders, allocating resources, and encouraging research and education, though there has been little enough of that so far.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Industrial Development made it clear in his speech to the Financial Times Second North Sea Conference that money would be available through the Industry Act for oil development projects, and that he would use future licence allocations as a reward and a discipline to stimulate oil companies to place orders with British concerns. This help will be needed at every stage. The Minister learnt on Friday that if Pembrokeshire is to be established as the base for the Celtic Sea and Wales is to have its chance, help will be needed for the provision of jetties at Pembroke Dock, Milford and Fish-guard.
My right hon. Friend learnt that Government assistance and the co-operation of the Ministry of Defence would be needed to give us the vital air services. Above all, he learnt from speaker after speaker at his meetings with industrialists that communications must be improved. I am glad to say that the Post Office is alert and is already taking steps to provide the telephone and Telex links which will be needed. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is as quick in his appreciation of the need to keep open the Whitland—Pembroke Dock railway line and to improve the Carmarthen-Pembroke Dock road. It is not just a matter of pushing the M4 westward. There is urgent need to clear the worst bottlenecks.
With drilling starting next summer, the situation is critical and will be made worse by the restrictions that have had to be imposed on a whole string of inadequate bridges. Not one industrialist whom I have met agrees with the Welsh Office view that when the Cleddau Bridge is finished most traffic will follow the A40. All the evidence points to the fact that huge quantities of heavy equipment—piping, drilling mud, steel and concrete—will now be added to the heavy tourist traffic on the A477.
1183 I believe that the Government's response to the need for road improvement in North-East Scotland has so far been inadequate. I do not believe that the Welsh Office has yet begun to think seriously of what is needed to service work in the Celtic Sea. Of course my right hon. and learned Friend can point to a great deal already done on the M4 and other roads, but the fact that in that respect we are more fortunate than Scotland must not make him complacent.
The Scottish Council is imaginatively seeking to ensure that the manufacturing potential be combined with the deep water potential for European trade. If oil is discovered in the Celtic Sea, we in Wales will have to identify the requirements with similar clarity and call for action with equal force. What is required, as I have indicated, is a huge enlargement of transport and communication links. What is necessary is the rapid identification of need, the provision of resources and the co-ordination to achieve success. I am deeply disturbed that no machinery exists in Wales at present to meet such a need.
But it is not just the need to identify opportunities or the provision of resources to seize them. We also have the nightmare problem of preparing for a series of changes which may not take place but which could overwhelm us if they do.
We have the Scottish experience as a guide to what could happen. The Highlands and Islands Development Board forecasts a 60 per cent. increase in population, from 90,000 to over 140,000, by 1991. In the next three years the population of North-East Scotland is expected to increase by 20,000, involving the creation of 7,000 more jobs. An Aberdeen University study estimates 15,000 extra jobs in Scotland by 1975. In the Shetland Islands a 50 per cent. increase in the local population of 17,000 is expected, and in Aberdeen, an influx of 20,000 by the end of the decade. These are population movements almost without precedent in Scotland.
It is no good thinking that we have several years to wait while exploration takes place. While in Pembrokeshire there is land both for industrial use and for housing, we are already under very great pressure. There has been a 70 per 1184 cent. increase in planning applications this year over last. There is great demand for property, combined with a shortage of skilled labour, and this means that right from the start we will face serious problems.
Because the pressure is already so great, the impact of additional demand will be particularly severe. One major problem will be sewerage. Increased central Government resources and early preparatory work will be needed. There are also likely to be serious problems in planning departments faced simultaneously with local government reorganisation.
I have concentrated on the impact on Pembrokeshire because the applications already made by licence holders, and both the CBI study and the report commissioned by the Pembrokeshire County Council on the dock and harbour facilities, clearly indicate that Milford Haven and Fishguard are natural centres for exploration, and that the former is the obvious point to bring oil ashore. But given proper communications, the whole of the South Wales engineering industry and a wide range of service occupations are well placed to participate, while the South Wales ports stand ready as the gateway to Europe.
I have pointed to the extent of the opportunity on the one hand and the scale of the problem on the other. In a recent speech I urged that the necessary machinery should be established to tackle those jobs. The CBI has called for—and my right hon. and learned Friend has so far rejected; he did so again today—the creation of a standing conference to oversee all aspects of oil exploration and development, including environmental matters. I welcome his statement today that he is keeping a very close watch on the situation.
I do not want to be dogmatic about the type of organisation that we should have, but I believe that a body is urgently required to analyse the possibilities, to co-ordinate, to commission a contingency plan to cover every part of Wales that may be affected, to put forward proposals for communications links, to provide information to industrialists, to prepare for the surge in housing demands, to guard against the threats to the environment, and, above all, to prepare Wales to seize the opportunity.
1185 The Pembrokeshire County Council has shown foresight, but that will not be enough. The Welsh Council has sent its communications panel to look at the scene. That is a pallid response. My right hon. and learned Friend has set up a working party of officials. That will do nothing to generate the energy and activity we will need.
The new Industrial Executive can deal only with part of the problem. I believe that we shall need something like a standing committee, perhaps chaired by the Secretary of State himself to give it the full authority of Government. I would like to see it imaginatively taking the initiative. If my right hon. and learned Friend prefers a different procedure, that I will accept—so long as we see action by the Government to ensure that on this occasion we dominate the industrial scene and are not dominated by it.
The opportunity may not be ours to face, but if it comes let us be ready for it. Let us not be content to salvage what we can from the achievements of a past age. Let us be ready to build in Wales one of the great centres of an expanding Britain.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I will not follow the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Nicholas Edwards) in his remarks, except to say that clearly if the reports of the discovery of a primary source of energy off our coast are right, it is a milestone for Wales, because history shows that dynamic developments in industrial progress are largely linked with the discovery of primary sources of energy. I think that we want to learn not only from the lessons of Scotland but also from our own past in Wales. At the very least, the community in Wales should benefit from it in a way in which the Welsh people never benefited from the development of primary resources discovered in the past. American firms are likely to take a prime part in these operations and the first phase will not result in very many jobs. But the second phase can and we must consider how Wales can gain the maximum benefit. I think we should have a levy on the oil and set up a development fund with the proceeds.
1186 I have always felt that Welsh day debates on the Floor of the House are very diffused. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas), in criticising the Secretary of State, referred to the butter being spread thinly on the bread. But the right hon. Member did the same thing himself. Some of his critics might say that he could not help it; but it is also in the nature of such a debate as this. The Welsh day debate was introduced to the Floor of the House when there was no Welsh Grand Committee, so that there was no other means of having a debate on Welsh affairs. That is why Welsh day was first introduced.
We cannot follow today—because we have not had the Kilbrandon-Crowther report—the suggestion that we might develop the Welsh Grand Committee for different purposes, but it can be said that this has always been an unsatisfactory debate. Many subjects have to be covered and there is no logical sequence of debate. Unfortunately, it has become a debate, inevitably, that is characterised by special constituency pleading. That is unavoidable to a degree.
But the very reason why we have the debate, and why Welsh day was introduced, is that we are a country, a nation, and we have a different cultural background from the rest of Britain. It is unfortunate that that aspect features so little in our discussion. One does not have to be a nationalist or an extremist of any kind to appreciate that Wales has its own culture—whether it be a Welsh-speaking or a non-Welsh-speaking culture—and to realise that many things are done differently in Wales. The one thing that Welsh day affords us is an opportunity to proclaim to the rest of the country some of the matters about which we feel deeply as a nation.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State's reference to the Bowen Report. I was even more glad that the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West make the remarks that he did, because he gave the impression, when the report was published that he was being extremely divisive.
§ Mr. George Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Hooson
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, as I always do, in a moment. I remember criticising Mr. Saunders Lewis for his radio lecture when he encouraged the Welsh extremists 1187 to unconstitutional action. I have never ceased to criticise him for that. He was stirring things up. And I criticise the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West because he stirred things up the other way when the Bowen Report was published. It is useless saying, when one knows that there is deep feeling on both sides, "I was stating a truism". Some people might feel that they would destroy signs that might be put up in Welsh, just as the Welsh Language Society feels like destroying signs that are put up in English that is the excuse. The right hon. Gentleman should not have said what he did. Therefore, I was glad therefore, to hear him put the record a little straighter today. I hope that he will maintain that attitude on a very delicate and difficult subject.
§ Mr. George Thomas
In the statement that I made immediately the Bowen Report came out I made it clear that the Labour Party had asked for bilingual signs. I made it equally clear that safety considerations must have priority, and that in my judgment English should therefore be on the top. From that I do not move.
§ Mr. Hooson
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is not the matter to which I was referring; it was his reference to the fact that some of the signs would not be up a week before people destroyed and defaced them to which I was referring, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it.
It is important to keep the matter in perspective. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have a responsibility. We have been trying in Wales to obtain justice for the language and to achieve progress without in any way encouraging extremism. When I think of the £3 million that it is suggested should be spent over 10 years I look at it in perspective and think of the enormous amount of money that was spent trying to destroy the Welsh language for many years. We can read about that in our own literature. Sir Owen Edwards describes the efforts which were made deliberately in the last century to try to suppress the Welsh language. It is not only in Tudor times that money has been spent in that way. However, we are now trying to repair the situation. There are 1188 other matters of priority but they do not compete in the same sphere.
Great sums are spent on many things in our country. For example, no one would deny that old people and the disabled have their rights. So has the Welsh language—[An HON. MEMBER: "And the Members' car park."] The Members' car park is a good example when one compares its cost with that of bilingual signs.
§ Mr. Arthur Probert (Aberdare)
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to be unfair. Is he aware of the vast sums of money which my county council has spent over the years to encourage the Welsh language?
§ Mr. Hooson
I am glad to hear that there are many enlightened people in Glamorgan.
I will now deal with a matter which is of great importance and which is a clear example of injustice. I refer to the problem of broadcasting and televising in Wales. I am opposed to a separate Welsh television channel. If I thought that it was in the interests of the Welsh language or the Welsh nation to have one I should be for it. I make my position clear. I do not think that we should have Welsh language programmes other than broadcast by the BBC, by HTV or even BBC2 as part of the natural and normal way of life of Wales. I do not subscribe to the view put forward by young enthusiasts—an extremely misguided view—that we should have a separate channel. That would shunt the Welsh language out on to the sidelines, and out of the normal run and course of life in Wales.
Having made my position clear about that, I also make it clear that I appreciate the enormous effect that television has on our lives and the lives of our children. That applies to both Welsh-speaking and non-Welsh-speaking children. It is a supremely important environmental factor. But one of the handicaps from which much of Wales suffers is bad reception. It creates many problems. It is divisive of a nation. People in Llandrindod Wells, where little Welsh is spoken, can receive only BBC Wales television programmes, and for six or seven hours a week these are in Welsh and at fairly peak times. The naturally feel a sense 1189 of injustice and frustration, as they do not understand It makes them anti-Welsh.
One of the main Welsh-speaking parts of my constituency is Llanfyllin. It cannot receive BBC Wales or HTV. It has had to rely almost entirely on piped television—which costs the population a good deal—from BBC Midlands and ATV. It is an impossible situation that they cannot receive any Welsh T.V., and it should not be tolerated.
The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. William Edwards), who has been greatly concerned about the matter, represents Bala, among other places. Bala cannot receive BBC Wales. and there is not a more Welsh town in Wales than Bala. Even the radio programmes of BBC Wales are indifferently received in Bala both by means of medium wave or VHF.
Those are only a few examples. For years hon. Members have campaigned on this matter and they have been fobbed off by successive Governments. It is a glaring injustice. I received a letter dated 9th November 1972 from the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, with which the Secretary of State is directly associated. The letter considers the television situation in Mid-Wales. The Minister says:By serving the major centres of population first the broadcasters can reach the greatest number of people quickly and so obtain the greatest amount of revenue in the shortest possible time. This enables them to finance the extension of the UHF service to the thinly populated rural areas which provide very little licence revenue. These areas, not only yield much less revenue, but are far more costly to serve because they require a large number of low power transmitters and programme links often over difficult terrain.That summarises the attitude of the Government and their predecessors towards the problem.
I wish to notify the whole House and the country generally of the problem, and I ask that it should he looked at in perspective. People in Mid-Wales pay the same television licence as do any other receivers. Nearly all of them also have to pay additionally for a commercial relay system. That involves a connection fee of perhaps £10, and an annual fee of £7 or £8 additional to their licence fee. What do they receive? Many can receive only one programme and some can receive two at the most. Many who do not subscribe cannot receive any pro- 1190 gramme. At least a third of the land area of Wales at present is a very bad area for television reception, but the populous industrial areas have a wide choice of four or five programmes.
The Government have insisted that the BBC can expand only out of increased revenue, which is to be obtained only from the difference between the colour television licence fee and the ordinary licence fee. Therefore, they insist as Government policy that the BBC develop only in the highly-populated industrial areas. Areas like mid-Wales are pushed to the back of the queue. They were way at the back of the queue for VHF; they have not received decent VHF services yet, and as manufacturers are now ceasing to produce VHF television sets they are also now at the back of the queue for UHF. The situation is serious.
Exactly the same thing has happened over radio. The Government have said, "We cannot afford expansion." That is disgraceful. On 28th November I asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what revenue had been obtained by means of a levy on independent television companies. His answer, reported in column 101 of HANSARD of that date, showed that it was over £166 million—jam to the Treasury from television alone! It was a levy on profits; imagine what the profits of the independent television companies are. As Lord Thomson has said, they have been given a licence to manufacture money. If the money has come into the Treasury, how can any Government maintain that they cannot afford to provide the less than £1 million that it would take to supply a decent television service for the whole of mid-Wales?
It is a serious matter, on which my constituents and those of the hon. Members for Merioneth, Cardigan (Mr. Elysian Morgan) and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) feel a burning sense of injustice. Why should we be at the end of the queue for proper reception? How can a Government fob us off with what is clearly an untruth? It is no use saying that the last Government failed to provide proper reception. Of course they did. They used exactly the same arguments as the present Government have used. People feel militantly about the matter. The situation is grossly unfair.
1191 When the Nationalists tried to argue that there was such a thing as Welsh water because the rain happened to fall on Wales, I always maintained that that was an unarguable proposition, and that we were in the United Kingdom as a partnership. I contended that although in my constituency, and in Brecon and Radnor and in Merioneth, the water that enables the great cities of England to live as they do falls and is held in reservoirs, it was part of our deal as a partnership in the United Kingdom that those cities should receive the water; that it should not be regarded as Welsh water, because it was a national asset. The tit for tat for that is that the urban populations should assist the rural populations with difficult problems such as television reception. Most people will accept this.
The Secretary of State and his predecessor have failed miserably to put Wales's case on the matter. The Secretary of State is associated with the replies sent to me by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in November. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman now to say that the Government and the television industry cannot afford to provide the money to bring a proper service to mid-Wales? It is vital for the Welsh nation. Why should we have a people divided against each other through no fault of their own? There must be a choice of programmes for people in Wales. Non-Welsh-speaking people must have English programmes, and Welsh-speaking people must be entitled to Welsh programmes, and within households there must be a choice. The failure to provide it is the most glaring injustice in the cultural and social life of Wales at present.
§ Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there are great mechanical problems about the distribution of television programmes, and that an indication that the Government have no intention of improving the situation is that they refuse to examine the mechanical problems of making sure that we have television reception through UHF?
§ Mr. Hooson
I accept that. There has been pitifully little research. I have quoted the figure of £166 million that has gone into Government coffers from a levy on independent television alone, yet it is 1192 argued that the Government and the television industry cannot afford to bring proper reception to mid-Wales. It is absolute nonsense. The Japanese, for example, have developed transistorised aerials for relaying television very cheaply, but no comparable research had been done in this country until very recently. I hope that the Secretary of State will shake up the Cabinet and the Government on the matter, because it is of extreme importance.
I do not want to take any more time on that subject. I want now to deal shortly with one or two aspects of the economic situation in Wales. We in Wales have always been concerned with the effect that economic life has on our social and cultural life. The present discontent in Wales over the proposals for closure of the Shotton steel works and the Ebbw Vale steel works is not because people cannot see that they constitute a rationalisation but because they dread the effect of that rationalisation on the social life of important parts of the Welsh community. I think it is generally accepted in Wales—and I know the Secretary of State well enough to know that he will accept this—that there are certain economic consequences that the Welsh people would be unwilling to tolerate. We think that they should be subservient to cultural and social considerations.
It was a distinguished member of the Labour Party—a Member for a steel constituency—who said in 1970 that nationalisation meant rationalisation. That is right, but a different approach is needed. We should look at the problem anew. For example, the Government should consider allowing Shotton to develop on a co-responsibility, co-ownership basis outside the nationalised industry. If it is to be closed under the present régime it is better to experiment with a different kind of set-up in the steel industry. We under-estimate the enormous benefits of good industrial relations that a factory like Shotton has had over the years. That is more important in practice than broad theoretical rationalisations.
My final point is that the Government have been extremely remiss in the development of a growth town policy for mid-Wales. They have stated a policy and done nothing to implement it. The right way to develop mid-Wales is to 1193 extend the remit of the new town development corporation. That does not need an Act of Parliament; it can be done by order. It would pump money into other towns and enable the expertise developed in new towns to be used. Two years after they proclaimed their adherence to a growth town policy, it really is time the Government did something about it.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)
I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) will forgive me if I do not follow the lines of his speech too closely.
We on the Opposition benches will agree that the most depressing feature of the debate so far is that there has been no indication that the Government have any idea of the gravity of the economic situation in the Principality. They have given us no idea of it, and they have given us no idea of any policies which they might have to cope with a situation which, in our view, is the most grave that has faced Wales for about 40 years.
Against that background one would have liked to see present in the Chamber the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, the Minister for Industry, and the Minister for Industrial Development who comes down to Cardiff at the weekend and makes promising sounds and noises about various measures which the Government intend to take to cope with the economic situation in Wales but who does nothing to spell those out, and we have not today heard anything from the Secretary of State about that.
I know that the House will be grateful if the Minister of State will tell us what discussions have taken place with the British Steel Corporation since the Ebbw Vale announcement, what lines the discussions have followed, and what he expects the outcome to be. The Secretary of State has a duty to tell us, not only in order to redeem his Government's pledge about open Government but because we are becoming more and more anxious about a situation that is deteriorating daily. It is impossible to over-emphasise the gravity of the situation in Gwent. So far the Government have shown a complacency which in the circumstances is utterly incredible.
1194 From time to time the Secretary of State behaves like a maiden aunt who finds herself in a house of ill-repute. He cannot cope with the situation and, transfixed, he does not know whether to make a bolt for the door or to sit it out in the hope that someone will come to extricate him from his difficulties. In the event, he does nothing.
I was particularly disturbed this afternoon to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman's reply to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). The right hon. and learned Gentleman was asked to give an undertaking with regard to the deliberations of the works council at Ebbw Vale. Does not the Secretary of State realise that the works council has reacted in a very responsible way to a series of proposals that will affect it in the most adverse possible way, and that his attitude is no encouragement to people to behave responsibly in a situation of this kind? The Secretary of State owes it to the House and to the people of Ebbw Vale and Monmouthshire to give a firm undertaking that no decision will be made on the BSC proposals until the works council has thought through its proposals and come forth with its recommendations.
The Secretary of State's attitude towards this issue, both at the moment and earlier when he was speaking, runs counter to the answer given by the Prime Minister to a Question of mine on 7th December. As part of that answer the Prime Minister said:I am also kept informed of other Ministers' discussions on the future of the steel industry in Wales. The Government are considering the investment programme proposed by the British Steel Corporation and will take full account of the social as well as the economic implications of these proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th December 1972; Vol. 847, c. 501.]I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery that one of the matters to be taken into account is the industrial record of the firm at Ebbw Vale. It has had a first-class track record ever since it was established.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
In what way did my remarks run counter to those of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Jeffrey Thomas
It is extraordinary that in answer to a perfectly straightforward and proper request from my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale the Secretary of State should stubbornly—it is a stubbornness to which we are becoming more and more accustomed—refuse to give any undertaking or promise about the decision relating to Ebbw Vale, but in my view that runs counter to the Prime Minister's promise that he and his Ministers would take into account all the social and economic circumstances of the area.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I repeat my question because the hon. Gentleman, in his professional capacity, realises the importance of accuracy. In what way did any remarks that I made today run counter—and I use the hon. Gentleman's words—to the remarks of the Prime Minister which he quoted?
§ Mr. Jeffrey Thomas
Is it not yet obvious to the Secretary of State that the people of Wales want straight answers to straight questions? That is what this is all about. May I take this opportunity of underlining what my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale said and nailing one blatant piece of misrepresentation in which the Secretary of State persists. On no fewer than four occasions I have heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that the proposals recently put forward by the BSC are on the same lines as those announced in 1970. That is simply not so. The Opposition must make it clear that there is no similarity between the two sets of proposals, and the Secretary of State knows that.
The 1970 proposals envisaged the continuation of the hot mill. The important difference is that the latest proposals categorically propose to close it down, and the majority of the extra redundancies created in Ebbw Vale stem from that proposal. In any event, as my hon. Friend said, the 1970 scheme spelled out a programme which would have resulted in a work force of more than 8,000 by the end of the decade. What similarities the Secretary of State can see between those proposals and the latest ones I do not know, and perhaps we may once and for all dispose of this attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Ebbw Vale and of this House.
1196 The loss of jobs locally will be very much higher than 4,500—and the Government must understand the real gravity of the situation—because of the multiplied effect. Anyone who does any kind of contract work will lose his job. Local shops will be forced to put up their shutters. A recent study carried out at University College, Swansea, estimated that for every five people employed at the Ebbw Vale works four other people depended upon the works for their livelihood. The eventual job loss could be as high as 8,100, and if replacement jobs cannot be brought in the unemployment rate in that part of Monmouthshire could rise to 30 per cent. or more.
We on this side of the House find that situation wholly intolerable. We are not prepared to support it and we cannot let the Government sit idly by and allow this to happen. Let there be no doubt about where the blame lies. The Opposition must make it plain to the people of Wales that the blame lies at the Government's door. The guilt will be theirs and theirs alone.
I propose now to say something about infrastructure policies, about which we hear so much from hon. Members opposite. The roads in Monmouthshire are more difficult to negotiate than the Khyber Pass. When the Minister of State visited my constiuency last Friday I invited him to see for himself the deplorable state of the A.467 road from Crumlin to Abertillery. I hope that he accepted that invitation and is convinced that the provision of a new road is a matter of the utmost priority. I hope that the Minister will not hide behind the skirts of the Monmouthshire County Council, which is the responsible authority for principal road schemes in the county. Financial help from the Government is desperately needed now. Extra financial assistance is required to enable road improvement schemes in the county to go ahead.
We are confronted not only with the situation which faces Ebbw Vale but with redundancies at ICI at Ponytpool. I have raised this matter before in the House, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I suggest that the Government have a duty in the first instance to see that Government contracts awarded to ICI, of which there must be many, are transferred from other parts 1197 of the country to Monmouthshire. Secondly, I believe that Government contracts awarded throughout the country should be transferred in this desperate situation to the County of Gwent. That is where the jobs are needed, and if the Government are to take decisions which will adversely affect everyone in the county they have a duty to see that new jobs are provided from elsewhere. Promises and protestations of concern and anxiety such as we have had for the last two and a half years from the Government are not enough. The time has now come for the Government when the people of Wales will no longer sit back and watch further inaction over these matters.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North)
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow too closely the remarks of the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Jeffrey Thomas). I should like first to refer to the speech by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) because on two occasions he referred to me. He suggested that I should listen to my constituents because they would tell me what was going on. I can assure him that I listen carefully to my constituents in my constituency but I am at a disadvantage compared with other hon. Members because I have to listen to them in the Chamber also. Today I listened to one of my constituents speaking for 49 minutes, and I listened with close attention.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West referred to yesterday's decision by the Cardiff City Council not to proceed with the proposal for the Hook Road. I understood that it was a matter of high drama. The issue was whether a certain alderman would be able to travel down on the trunk road from Merthyr fast enough. Had my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State proceeded more quickly with the construction of the road, who knows? What is certain about yesterday's result is that it involved party political manoeuvres with both sides getting their forces together. Who knows whether, at some time in the future—in a matter of months or so—the issue will be raised again? On that occasion the alderman to whom I referred may travel 1198 down fast enough. Which way he will vote, of course, I do not know.
I raised the matter in an intervention because the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West was referring to the destruction of property entailed in the construction of the road. I was right to point out that what he said originally has not changed today. He said that a north-south road was the answer and that, of course, is what the Hook Road was planned to be. He said that if any other line was adopted for the route it would involve more expense and would require the destruction of more property. I do not say this in any way to criticise the right hon. Member.
§ Mr. George Thomas
Will the hon. Member say whether he has changed his mind? Is he now in favour of the hook road?
§ Mr. Roberts
I always allow interventions because it is part of my courteous nature, but I should have known that the intervention would be totally irrelevant. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the answer?"]. The answer is quite clear. I gave evidence at the hook road inquiry, but that is not relevant to what I am arguing at the moment and I do not intend to go down the avenues of digression raised by the right hon. Gentleman.
The hook road proposal emerged from the Buchanan Report, which I believe cost the City of Cardiff about £350,000. The inquiry cost £75,000, I believe. The Buchanan Report was instigated by a Labour-dominated city council at the suggestion of a Labour Secretary of State, ant Government finance accounted for the major part of the £350,000. I am not attempting to make—and I know that I am not succeeding in making—a political point; I am seeking to ensure only that the Minister of State will consider that the report of the inquiry which has been lying on the Secretary of State's desk should he published.
§ Mr. Roberts
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear", because we should know what the report contains. It cost a great deal of money, and the least we can expect is for it to be published without delay.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Will the hon. Member now say whether he would advise the Minister of State not to proceed with the Hook Road scheme.
§ Mr. Roberts
Having urged the Minister of State to ensure that the report is published, I should like at least to see what it says and to see what the inspector made of the evidence submitted by people like myself, like the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Ted Rowlands), and so many others. I believe that I could count on support from the Opposition in pressing for its publication.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, quite correctly—and it places me in a certain dilemma in arguing the issue on motorway inquiries—that we cannot have roads built without prolonged deliberation. He said that on every occasion that any Government put forward a proposal for a motorway there was bitter and highly organised resistance. I am deeply concerned with the planning of the proposed extensions of the M4. There is widespread concern about the method of public inquiry into motorway proposals, and the M4 is no exception.
One of the major objections of so many people is that proposals are always looked into on a piecemeal basis. Because of this, public participation is restricted to details. What it wants to be allowed to do is engage in a discussion of broad strategy, taking in, in the case of the M4, the economic needs of South Wales, and looking at the whole environmental position.
In a reply yesterday the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower):There is no objection to the raising of the wider strategy of the motorway at a public inquiry into any particular section."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th December, 1972; Vol. 848. c. 901.]That is splendid and in many ways encouraging. But most people are not convinced. If my right hon. and learned Friend institutes a final inquiry for the last section of the M4 for Glamorgan, from Coryton to Tredegar Park, how can the advocates of a southern M4 route, going to the south of Cardiff through Cardiff Docks, or the advocates of a northern route at the Mouths of the Valleys, put their case with conviction, 1200 the starting point for the inquiry being at Coryton?
There is a feeling that with the public inquiry terminating at Coryton it pre-empts any route from Coryton to Tredegar Park. There is growing concern, which could be allayed if my right hon. and learned Friend held one inquiry from Capel Llanilltern to Tredegar Park. People could then see that it was possible for them to discuss economic and environmental strategy. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to give this matter further consideration.
I seek from him an assurance that he will not make his decisions separately he insists on holding separate inquiries, but will give overall strategic consideration to the proposed M4 route—a consideration which is denied to the public by the method of procedure.
I have a few words to say about the steel industry. Like many other areas, Cardiff awaits with anxiety the decision on the industry. The East Moors works, like many others is threatened with closure because of the proposals to establish modernised steel-making plant. Over the last two years we have had an action committee in Cardiff made up of all parties and all interests. The right hon Member for Cardiff, West will. I am sure, agree that his right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) has played an important part in getting that committee together. We have met on many occasions.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West have led deputations to see the Secretary of State. We have stressed the problems facing East Moors. We have pointed out the one great advantage that the East Moors works has which perhaps makes it different from many open-hearth furnaces in that the billets which it makes are delivered to the customer next door, just over the wall, in a wide range of specifications. I would like to be assured that this factor will be given special consideration.
There is one other assurance that I seek from my hon. Friend, namely that detailed consideration has been given to the developments that have taken place in open-hearth furnaces, particularly in Canada but also in Wales and other parts of the country. There has been extensive 1201 development in Canada of what is called the SIP process. I claim no technical expertise but I quote from the 33 Magazine of August of this year which says:Reports of the demise of the open-hearth furnace as a steel production tool may prove to be wildly exaggerated after all.Referring to the Canadian Steel Corporation it says that the corporation has discovered a steel production method that not only promises to save existing open-hearth shops from the junk heap but which may revolutionise the industry in the process. It goes on, referring to the Canadian Steel Corporation:Instead the firm will convert three of its open-hearths to SIP, increasing its steel capacity from just over 1 million tons annually to 2.5 million tons during the next two years.I have sent copies of this article and others, with all the technical detail involved, to my right hon. and learned Friend. I want the assurance that open-hearth works in this country will not be closed until consideration has been given to this process which I believe involves injecting oxygen from below rather than from above the furnace.
We at least want to know that this has been effectively explored and investigated before any decision on the fate of open-hearth furnaces is made. This is particularly important when we remember that in Canada they were writing off the open-hearth system a year ago, yet today they think that they can extend its life and make it a viable economic proposition.
Whatever decision is made in the steel industry we recognise that at its most favourable steel-making will continue but there will be a run-down of jobs. I urge my hon. Friend to recognise that we are concerned with the phasing of the rundown, even on the most favourable estimation that steelmaking continues. We want to see this phasing extended, so that there is no hardship to those who have given ther lives to producing steel. Even a run-down which is phased in a humane way, taking social effects into account, is not enough. Although people now involved in the industry may be saved from loss of job opportunity, such a process will not create jobs for the young people at school.
It is not sufficient to say, "Let us phase down." What is as important is that we 1202 are able to attract industry to replace loss of job opportunity. Cardiff and South-East Glamorgan are in an intermediate area, but experience has shown that assisted area status has not been sufficient to attract to Cardiff the industry required for our school leavers. I urge my hon. Friend to look again at the question of granting full development area status for Cardiff.
I recognise that my hon. Friend's responsibility is for the whole of Wales. I recognise, too, that giving development areas status can affect and would affect our immediate neighbours. Therefore, all I ask him to do is to give this matter his sympathetic consideration. I am aware that his problem is not just Cardiff but the whole of South Wales, but I think it is worth taking into sympathetic consideration, because I believe that a strongly-based industrial economy in Cardiff will be of benefit to the whole of the South Wales community.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Goronwy Roberts (Caernarvon)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State in his opening speech reminded us that about a fortnight from now we shall be in the Common Market. That gave me hope that he would spell out to the House for the first time the position of and the prospects for Wales under the new dispensation. He did not do so, and our disappointment, repeated over the past 18 months or two years when we have been pressing Ministers for enlightenment on the position of Wales in the EEC, must now be tinged very strongly with acute alarm.
Ministers, especially Welsh Ministers, must know that the economy of the Principality is peculiarly vulnerable to the impact of the dominant policies of the Western European Economic Union. We in Wales, like other peripheral areas of Britain, Scotland and the north of England, stand in considerable peril from the policies of Darwinian economics which dominate the EEC, and for months past we have been seeking information as to how Wales will be placed and what hopes there are that we shall share to any extent in the new wealth promised to accrue to this country from entry into the Market.
We have been deluged with assurances about the new regional policy which has 1203 been evolved by the EEC—made in Brussels—but we have been given very few details, no concrete details, of how this will work, apart from the disquieting figure of £3 million or £4 million a year to be spent on the potential regions for development throughout Western Europe. More than that was spent by the Labour Government on developing my constituency. Where are these policies for regional development? Where are the Welsh Ministers to give us chapter and verse on how Wales, like the country and regions, Scotland, North-East England and the South-West—will fare?
Particularly, is Wales to be one of the special areas under the new regional development policy of the EEC? There are reports that Scotland and northern England are to be special areas within the new dispensation. Before the end of this debate, the last of its kind on Wales we shall be able to have in this House before we enter the EEC, we need to know from a responsible Minister the answer to that question: is Wales to be a special area within a definition contained in the EECs new regional policy?
The claim of Scotland and the north of England has been made. Indeed, under the present Government their case has been made for them. Both share the top of the league for unemployment at 5.9 per cent—unemployment. Wales follows very closely on their heels with 4.8 per cent.
All three regions are on the periphery. They are, as I have said, in dire danger from the working out of the central policy activated within the tight little Zollverein in West Europe whereby industry is to be increasingly cartelised and geographically concentrated—along a line from about Birmingham to Basle. There will be nothing left for Brittany or Barmouth, nothing left for Wales, unless Ministers have done their job and argued effectively that Wales is a country and a peripheral area in the new set-up and ought to be given whatever special area status is forthcoming from this new system.
I said that the case for special treatment has been made by the policies of the Government, not least in Wales. They have followed since June 1970 exactly the policy which is the official economic policy of the Common Market; that is to say, "the race to the strong, and the 1204 weakest to the wall", the substitution of the regressive technique of indirect taxation for a more equitable system of direct taxation. It all comes together: concentration, cartelisation, dependence upon an out-of-date law of comparative costs, and reluctance to include any computation of social costs.
This is the system we are going into, and Wales is peculiarly vulnerable to the effects of such a system on its economic and community life. This must be intensified after 1st January when there will be nothing between us and the ruthless rationalisation of the Brussels commissioners. By the way, what has happened to the proposal for a Welsh commissioner? Scotland and England have each a commissioner in Brussels, for what it is worth. Wales is entirely unrepresented at any one of the higher levels; at every on of the effective levels we are unrepresented.
§ Mr. Hooson
Would the right hon. Gentleman volunteer for the position? I am sure he would do very well.
§ Mr. Roberts
No. I would defer to the Liberals in this matter. They are so adaptable.
We are entitled to an answer to this question of how we shall fare and how the Government have provided for us in this new system.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Michael Roberts) mentioned the steel industry. With much of what he said my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) and I immediately agreed. We meet tonight under the special preoccupation about the future of the steel industry, the largest productive industry in Wales, on which some 200,000 to 250,000 of our people, about one-tenth of our population, directly or indirectly, depend. The future of entire communities in Wales, like Ebbw Vale and Deeside, depend upon the future of the steel industry. Their anxieties are acutely shared by the rest of Wales, and for a very good reason.
My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) has fought valiantly for Shotton. It was less than gracious of the Secretary of State to refer to my hon. Friend's efforts in the way he did. Let us look at Shotton and its implication for my part of Wales. 1205 What I say about Shotton can be applied equally to Ebbw Vale, but I know Shotton a little better. It is clear from today's Guardian and Press reports during the weekend, all of them obviously officially inspired, that the Government have finally decided to scrap the steel industry as we know it in Shotton, Ebbw Vale and Consett and in some Scottish centres. The palliative, if such it be, is that the rundown will be gradual over the next eight or 10 years. That is an old story—death by a thousand cuts. There are one or two things to be said about this policy which is being canvassed through the newspapers before it is announced to the House, before the end of this week or possibly when we return.
Even if the promise of alternative jobs for these steel centres is fulfilled, what will be the effect on other parts of Wales? Deeside, which will need to replace 8,500 jobs—and if we apply the economic multiplier some thousands more—will be the sieve through which all applicant firms will go before any one of them emerges as available for the rest of North Wales. The flow of new industry will be mopped up on Deeside, if the promise is kept, and only a trickle will reach the West and the North-West. Even now, when there is still a relatively high rate of employment on Deeside, not even a trickle of desperately needed new industry is coming to North-West Wales where the unemployment level is 10 per cent. How much more difficult will it be if the policy of creating 10,000 alternative jobs in Deeside alone is only partially kept? The impact of this policy will be upon the rest of North Wales as well as upon Deeside and Ebbw Vale.
I mention 10 per cent. as being the level of unemployment in parts of my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans) reminded us recently that in Bargoed there is a similar percentage of unemployed. If the promise to introduce alternative industry to Ebbw Vale is even partially kept, what are the prospects for Bargoed and several other centres which suffer almost as severely from high unemployment in the Monmouth and Glamorgan valleys?
I do not want to go into detail today on the subject of the future of the Welsh language, but I feel that I should just say that I hope that we shall have an 1206 early opportunity in the Welsh Grand Committee of considering not only bilingual road signs but the whole spectrum of language policy. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) mentioned Welsh language television. I only differ from him in that I think that it might be a good idea to have a separate channel for Welsh language broadcasting.
Bilingual road signs, schools, the subsidisation of published material, the question of whether the Welsh Language Commission is spending the money wisely, whether the Arts Council is distributing its largesse for the purposes intended by the House—all these things must be scrutinised carefully within the context of an intelligent, progressive, thoughtful language policy in Wales.
I am for implementing the Bowen Report, but implementing it in such a way that we carry the whole of Wales with us. Not only should the aspirations of the Welsh-speaking section be honoured, but the natural apprehensions of the non-Welsh-speaking majority should be respected. Eight centuries ago, Giraldus Cambrensis said that if the Welsh were inseparable they would prove to be insuperable. That is as true today as when it was said. The worst that can happen to the future prospects of the language is that we should squabble about it amongst ourselves. The Welsh-speaking section and the non-Welshs-peaking section are all equal citizens of Wales, and our first obligation is to respect and co-operate with each other.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Morgan (Denbigh)
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) commenced his speech by saying that he preferred to say the pleasant things first. I shall vary that. There are one or two things I want to say which may not sound very pleasant, but I shall come later to more pleasant ones.
Despite the strictures made by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), an occasion like this is one on which one can fairly raise important constituency matters, and I propose to do so. In the limited time at my disposal I intend to refer mainly to a particular constituency problem, and I feel that I am the more entitled to do so because a similar problem in Cardiff 1207 has already been mentioned by at least two of my hon. Friends and also by hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches.
I do not like to add to the burdens of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, but there is an important matter regarding Colwyn Bay, in my constituency, which I must take this opportunity to bring before the House. Before doing so, I will make one or two general comments on what my right hon. and learned Friend said about the building of roads in Wales. He gave some impressive figures. He informed us that 11 major trunk road schemes are today being confirmed, and I think he mentioned a sum of £48 million in relation to them. Those are, indeed, impressive figures, but, unless I misheard, they related almost exclusively to South Wales and not to the North. The only brief reference my right hon. and learned Friend made to the North was to the Colcon scheme, about which I shall have a little more to say.
I regret that there was no reference in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech to proposals for the improvement of the A55. The "disgrace of the A55" has been frequently referred to, both in the House and in the Welsh Grand Committee.
I shall not embark on any comments about the saga of Hook Road in Cardiff. I shall keep out of that. I understand that it is a matter of party manoeuvre and division. I can, however, assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) that what I shall refer to now is not a matter for party division in Colwyn Bay.
I do not want to weary the House with the details of this rather unhappy story, but perhaps a few remarks will not be out of place. The story began as long ago as 1968, when the Hook Road affair also began. In September 1968 the Colcon proposals were first let loose on the world. They referred to four possible routes for a bypass for Colwyn Bay. The four routes had one thing in common: they went right through the town. The favoured route was route "C", which probably involved the least disturbance and the least destruction of property, although in all conscience, the disturb- 1208 ante and destruction it would have involved would have been quite enough.
There was considerable, and justifiable, local opposition to the proposed route. One may assume that there would have been even more to the other routes proposed in the Colcon report. Eventually, as my right hon. and learned Friend is aware, the proposal was decisively rejected by the local authority.
In the meantime, quite fortuitously, there was a debate in the Welsh Grand Committee in October 1968 during which I asked the right hon. Member for Cardiff. West to set up an inquiry into whether an alternative route could be devised, running to the south of the town and avoiding the dislocation and destruction of property which implementation of route "C" necessarily would have involved. The right hon. Gentleman obligingly agreed. I did not think at the time, nor did anyone in Colwyn Bay, that the inquiry would take as long as four years. It led to mounting public frustration in Colwyn Bay. One does not need much imagination to appreciate the feeling that existed among townsfolk who lived in the threatened area and who have had this sword hanging over their heads for so long.
The terms of the investigation were first made known on 31st July last, and I must make it plain to the Government that the route which is now preferred has been even more badly received than was route "C" in 1968. What I am saying is a considered opinion and not a hasty reaction, because since the announcement on 31st July this year I have had the opportunity of consulting many different facets of opinion. I have indeed discussed the matter with a leading industrialist, who told me that, though he might personally benefit from the expressway, he was strongly against it because of its effect on the town.
I sympathise to some extent with the dilemma of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. On the one hand as he said in opening this debate, people press for the improvement of Welsh roads and for the construction of motorways, and yet, when proposals are made to assist, many difficulties are nut in their way and often meet with well organised, and sometimes inflamed local opposition. I appreciate 1209 my right hon. and learned Friend's difficulty, but I must make it clear to him that almost everybody accepts the necessity of a bypass of Colwyn Bay. It is also accepted that the selected route is probably the most economical from a technical point of view, but it is felt at the same time that the cost assessment has taken little or no account of the severe effect on the town, which involves the rehousing of a large number of families. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West said that 1,200 houses would be affected by the Hook Road development. Proportionately, the number of houses affected in Colwyn Bay would be very much greater.
The Colwyn Bay local authority has appointed a consultant to evaluate the preferred route and other routes, taking into account both the direct and the indirect costs and bearing in mind the longrange effects of what is now proposed and the sociological considerations. The money for this will have to come from the Colwyn Bay rates. We must bear in mind that Colwyn Bay is a comparatively small place, and I feel that the costs of any further inquiries should be borne by central Government and not by the local ratepayers.
A mere handful of properties was threatened by route C in the Colcon proposals of 1968. Now no fewer than 171 houses are affected and about 16 commercial properties. But that is not the end of the story. We must take account of the loss of employment that would result from the destruction of commercial properties. We must also bear in mind the other serious problems which are involved, such as the relocation of businesses, the loss of tourism which will take place, perhaps for ever, and the loss of rate income consequent on the con- struction of the road. Furthermore, reasonably level land will be hard to find for the rehousing and the relocation of businesses. Most important of all, when considering the cost of a reasonable alternative route we must bear in mind that the difference between the cost of such a route and the cost of the present preferred route, could easily be absorbed by the additional cost of properties to be acquired, and so on. This is a further reason why the Government should rethink the position.
1210 There are strong local feelings on this issue. I understand that an excellent model of the present preferred route has been produced by the Welsh Office. It has been shown to the Colwyn Bay council and to the Denbighshire council but it has not been publicly displayed in Colwyn Bay. I do not understand the reason for this secrecy, because this is a matter of serious consequence to the local inhabitants. One explanation given for this strange attitude is that since this scheme has not been officially adopted as a final route, it would be wrong to display it to the public. That is a rather arid legal point and it will not satisfy the inhabitants of the borough. It is essential that a feasible alternative should be considered as a matter of urgency. After all, this was done in the case of Deganwy.
My right hon. and learned Friend in opening the debate said that he had taken power to purchase properties threatened by the preferred route. This will provide no solution to the problem but will give some relief to those who have lived under the shadow of this proposal for so long. I hope, therefore, that considerable publicity will be given to this fact.
I turn to the question of bilingual road signs. I am glad to say that my judgment is far more favourable on this matter than it is with regard to the Colcon scheme. As I see the situation, we accepted the principle of equal validity, as enshrined in the Hughes-Parry report, which was the foundation of the Welsh Language Act 1967; and that being so we must in justice, accept the principle that public signs should appear in Welsh as well as in English. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's decision because it is only an extension of the principle of equal validity which was legislatively accepted in 1967. Not even the most fervent supporter of bilingual signs could possibly criticise his decision. It was a courageous step, and he knew when he took it that he would be the subject of some criticism. In two ways my right hon. and learned Friend has gone even further than the recommendations of the Bowen Committee. First, he has made the provision of these signs obligatory. Secondly, he has given greater financial support for the purpose than was envisaged by the Bowen Committee.
1211 I should welcome a debate on this subject in the Welsh Grand Committee. However, I agree strongly with the observation of the right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) in that connection. We shall not do justice to Wales or to the Welsh language it we limit such a debate to bilingual signs. There are many other aspects of the Welsh language, its teaching and its preservation that could be discussed profitably in the Welsh Grand Committee.
It has been suggested that this decision by the Secretary of State was a surrender to persons who have used violent means to attain their objectives. I do not believe that that is right. It would be most unfortunate if it were so. Surely it is an indication that these matters can be achieved by constitutional means, by a report from a respected committee which has been accepted by the Government almost in toto. It should not in any way be regarded as giving any encouragement to use other than constitutional means for the achievement of people's aims.
Perhaps there is only one bone of contention remaining. It is the order in which the languages should appear on bilingual signs. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend and with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, West that the safety aspect is most important, and it is right that further time should be taken to consider that. I express a personal view when I suggest that in certain cases local public opinion about the order of the languages might be taken into account. Again I agree with the right hon. Member for Caernarvon that this is not an issue on which we want to divide the Welsh nation.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend upon his recognition of the place of the Welsh language in the life of Wales. That is not a party matter. On this issue I hope that there will never be party division in this House.
§ 8.3 p.m.
Mr. Arthur Probed (Aberdare)
I am sure that every right hon. and hon. Member will agree that the threat to the steel works of Wales, especially those in Ebbw Vale, and the possible effects upon the employment situation stresses the importance of not doing anything to add to the problems of the valley communities. What is more, my right hon. Friend 1212 the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) has spoken of the possible after-effects on other industries as a result of the proposals which are being made in regard to Ebbw Vale.
For several years now I and many of my colleagues have drawn attention to the threat posed by wasteful development. In the course of his admirable speech my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) mentioned the threat to the hinterland of South Wales of the coastal development, and all the congestion and social problems that that in itself would bring to an area which inevitably would become a conurbation. This was shown quite clearly some years ago in the report on the development of the South-East. Yet year after year the Welsh Office, even under my own Government, seems to have missed the vital lessons of that report.
In an admirable speech made in the early hours one morning last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) referred to Professor Buchanan's work in Wales as "a disaster". To an extent, I share that view. But I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that Buchanan is not the real culprit. Those people in South Wales and in the Welsh Office who have accepted the report are the culprits, because they are far more aware of the problems inherent in South Wales than Buchanan is. Therefore, I absolve Buchanan of fault to some extent, although, as I have said before, the most sensible export that we could make from this country would be of experts in both planning and fuel matters. I should like to see them exported to our most harsh competitors in order to see the damage that they could wreak upon those countries.
In this connection, I am pleased that at long last the Government have thrown the so-called fuel experts aside after many years of agitation from me and a number of my hon. Friends. Next Thursday we shall be debating the Coal Industry Bill, which shows that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have rejected the advice of their experts.
While it would not be out of order for me to talk about the coal industry in this debate, I do not propose to do so. 1213 The Government have realised the need for a sensible fuel policy which many of us on these benches were unsuccessful in impressing upon our own Government.
I said earlier that nothing should be done to add to the problems of the valley communities. In view of that, I intend to return to a subject which I have dealt with on a number of occasions over the years. It concerns the new town of Llantrisant. This proposal must be judged on the basis of certain criteria: first, what is best in the interests of the existing community; secondly, what is the best way of maintaining those communities; thirdly, what is the best way of providing a secure future for both young and old.
Ultimately a new town at Llantrisant will bring about the destruction of those communities. All the evidence has been produced already by the experts. I have dealt with the facts in previous debates, and I shall not refer to them again. At the same time, the new town will not provide a comparable replacement. As the Secretary of State will be aware, recent studies of existing new towns has shown that the problem is that over many years they do not seem to acquire any community sense.
We must always remember that our existing valley communities have been tried in the adversities of many years of severe depression and very high unemployment alternating with comparatively short periods of prosperity, the latter possibly highlighting the degree of the economic distress which unfortunately has followed. But their spirit has never been crushed. Their community spirit and social values have paradoxically, always been high, and they have never flagged.
Inevitably Llantrisant would draw a large proportion of its population from the valleys. The Buchanan Report stated that 70 per cent. would be drawn from the valleys. Let us not forget that it is the younger generation who will be tempted to go.
There is one basic fact that I have emphasised again and again. It is that new towns have been intended to take up overspill from already congested areas where industry and social capital are too severely pressed. There are no overspill problems in South Wales. Social 1214 capital in the valleys will be under-used if Llantrisant goes ahead.
There is no congestion of industrial growth. The reverse is true. There is not nearly enough industrial growth, and there is plenty of industrial land available adjacent to the valley communities, whether it be at the mouths or at the heads of the valleys. There is mile after mile of suitable land totally unsuited to agricultural development which could be developed for industrial use.
Llantrisant would not be an overspill town. But it would drain the very life blood from the valleys. It is estimated that £200 million to £300 million of capital will be spent in establishing Llantrisant. Only a fraction of that cost would completely transform the existing communities—I make this special plea to the Secretary of State—and solve most of the problems which now confront the Welsh Office and the people of South Wales.
Just think of the social capital existing now. There are new schools, new health centres, residential homes for the aged, recreation facilities—amenities of all kinds. I readily agree that there are not enough, but more are being planned. My argument is that this social capital, invaluable as it is, should not be pushed aside as of no consequence by the so-called planning experts.
I fear that a greater part of housing development, social development and certainly industrial development would inevitably be channelled into the new town to the detriment of the existing communities. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon mentioned that if we are to produce the employment to take up the unemployment that will be caused in Ebbw Vale there will inevitably be less to put elsewhere. We want not a concentration of such resources, but a dispersal—this is important in South Wales—to the tried and valuable existing communities. Let us again remember that such resources would cost a fraction of what would be required at Llantrisant.
Over the next few years—say, up to the 1990s; I shall not see that time—by spending about £100 million in the valley communities we could save £200 million, the estimated amount to produce Llantrisant by the 1990s, of what I regard as wasted capital investment. Indeed, I should think that this would certainly 1215 appeal to any Government and to any Treasury.
I have for some time held the view that we should have a Heads of the Valleys Development Corporation. My colleagues in these areas share that view, and we are trying in every possible way to push this.
The lesson of the rejection of a new town for mid-Wales should have been learned by now. It was a healthy and responsible decision, made against all the advice of the officials, with a view to protecting and increasing the growth of the existing communities in mid-Wales. To this end the New Town Development Corporation was set up. Of course, much has still to be done. Errors have no doubt been made. But in principle—I support this 100 per cent.—without doubt the right decision was made against all the planning advice that was given. The Secretary of State can do likewise and set up a Heads of the Valleys Corporation which would require Government investment, I repeat, at only a fraction of the cost that Llantrisant would cost. Surely the Welsh Office has some regard for the experience of the new town at Cwmbran which has drawn two-thirds of its population from the adjacent parts of Mon-mouthshire and other parts of South Wales.
I realise that the Secretary of State will be in some difficulty in commenting upon this matter as the inspector's report is before him. All I ask is that he does two things: first, take note of what his colleagues have been saying for some time; and, secondly, have the courage, which his Government have shown regarding the experts in the coal industry, to defy those in his office who may be advising him to the contrary. I know that he has that courage. I hope he also has the wisdom.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) is, as usual, so courteous and persuasive that it seems almost churlish to point out how deeply imbued his speech was with fearfulness about the future and with clinging, to the past. I am glad to see him in such excellent health. I hope that he will be with us until the 1990s. I am also glad to see hon. Gentlemen opposite in such excellent health. It must have 1216 occurred to them, as it has to some of my hon. Friends and myself, what might be the consequences of a by-election in any of the seats which those of us on either side at present represent. I am not referring to Lincoln, whenever that might be fought, but more to Dundee, East where the likelihood of the intervention of the Scottish Nationalist candidate bodes ill for many of us.
The Aberdare seat might be in a grievous state were there to be a by-election there now. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Rowlands) had a certain amount of difficulty in fighting off the Plaid Cymru candidate in April 1972 at a time when a by-election was held in Southwark and the Labour Party had no difficulty in coasting home. Things are not quite the same for the Labour Party now. If by-elections were held now in Aberdare, Caernarvon, and either of the Rhonddas or Llanelli, I am not sure that they would be so favourable for the Labour Party. I admit that this is an unsubstantial pageant; it will fade away and leave not a wrack behind.
However, something more disturbing is looming up for the Labour Party. I refer to the spectacle of the Conservative Party, firmly in the middle of the political spectrum, now pursuing policies of concensus —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—which hon. Gentlemen know in their heart of hearts spell disaster for them at the next General Election. I freedly admit that these policies of concensus are more favourably received by some of my hon. Friends than others, but they are Government policies which represent a serious threat to the Labour Party.
I welcome unreservedly the massive aid which the Government are now giving to the coal industry. There has been little mention of that industry by hon. Gentlemen today. Had the Labour Government been so bold and far-seeing there might be a number of people at work today in Wales who are not at work. Be that as it may, the outlook for the coal industry is now bright. I am particularly glad because the pit in my constituency is one where labour relations have been excellent, where there was no bad feeling during the strike, and if any men deserve a bright future, they do.
The policy on which the Government have now embarked requires a matching.
1217 act of faith and good will from the unions. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite will exert all their influence in that direction.
The Government's reasons for deciding on this massive aid to the coal industry are partly strategic, but they also arise partly from their determination to ensure that there shall not be high unemployment in the regions.
I have good reason for hoping that when the Government have taken a still longer and harder look at the British Steel Corporation's plans, thought out by those bloodless fish swimming in the corporation's "think tank", they will consider even more strongly what the social implications are likely to be.
Pressure from the Labour Party on the Government to expedite their statement on future steel policy seems—I grieve to say this—to be based more on political expediency than on a desire to safeguard the jobs of the men working in the steel industry. Therefore, I am soberly confident that the Government will not permit large-scale unemployment in the eastern end of the County of Flint.
By the same token, I am hoping, with good reason, that they will look with a very favourable eye on proposals for increasing employment at the western end of the county. We shall shortly be ready with proposals asking the Government for an advance factory, and I hope shortly to lead a delegation to my right hon. and learned Friend asking for his support in this matter.
I have been mainly, and rightly, complimentary to the Government because I think that theirs is a remarkable record of achievement—[Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but if their Government had had anything like this to show they would not have lost the last election. I have two criticisms, or queries. The first concerns sewage and the vexed question of the discharge by Manchester, Cheshire and Lancashire corporations of sewage sludge into Liverpool Bay. We have the report of a working party set up by the Department of Employment assuring us that the levels of toxicity produced by this dumping cannot under any circumstances constitute a hazard to health. I recall the assurance given us by the scientists at the time of the nuclear explosions in the atmosphere that the build- 1218 up of strontium 90 could not under any circumstances constitute a menace to health. But perhaps rather more to the point is the anxiety and the suspicions which are developing among the local authorities along the North Wales coast.
I know that there was a conference the other day, which the Welsh Office helpfully arranged, to discuss it. It was a conference from which all elected representatives were excluded, and the net effect, unfortunately, has been to increase rather than to reduce suspicions on this score.
My other criticism—this will be rather more unkind, I am afraid—relates to roads. Almost all the announcements that we hear relate to South Wales, and the feeling is growing that we in North Wales are being discriminated against. I know the terrible problems which are presented by the Colcon section of the A55. I heard enough of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Geraint Morgan) to realise what upsets this road is liable to cause in that part of the world.
I know that the question of the Dee barrage is such a multi-purpose affair that it requires careful consideration by a large number of Government Departments and almost justifies the interminable delays in reaching a decision. But none of these arguments applies to that stretch of the road from the Welsh border as far as St. Asaph, for in most of that length there is plenty of room for dual tracking, particularly on the eastern section of the road.
Flyovers could be built, the road could be made a dual carriageway, and there is plenty of land available for the moment —although the last time that I drove past the Queensferry roundabout, I noticed that the place where I would have made a flyover land had already gone for building land. So there is not all that much time to be lost. I hope that there will he a still greater sense of urgency in the Welsh Office in tackling this route. It is rapidly becoming a noose around the economic neck of North Wales. The sooner that it is widened into a decent dual carriageway along all its length the better.
Subject to that reservation, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the way in which he has defended Welsh interests throughout the year. We have 1219 every confidence that in Cabinet he will continue to fight for Welsh interests in the treatment of the steel industry.
§ 8.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)
I usually follow the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer). I reject his accusations of political motivation. As for his thesis on by-elections, I challenge him to put it to the test by resigning his seat and finding out that way.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) referred to the cost of land. In my constituency a regrettable effect has been the rocketing cost of school building. The costs of similar school designs vary greatly because of land values. In the area of Hawarden an acre of land required for school building cost nearly £20,000 recently. This is wicked, and it is a distressing impediment to the very best communal projects. Therefore, will the Secretary of State initiate some inquiry into the cost of land so far as it affects school building?
There is a black cloud over Shotton steel works, and we know that at least about 3,000 jobs will be lost. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to consider making the area, East Flintshire, a full development area. So far, since we have been an intermediate area, not one new industry has been steered to us by the DTI. Surely it is best to prepare in advance of any crisis.
For three hours every day Deeside communications are a pitiful shambles, despite the heroic efforts of our police force. I have received petitions from the Vauxhall car workers, from the Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board employees, and from steel workers, all seeking emergency action in the form of at least a temporary flyover at Queensferry Bypass Roundabout. I support such a proposition. I have been told that Birmingham City Council, for instance, erected such a flyover in three weeks. Therefore, would the Secretary of State very soon allow the permanent grade separation schemes to be put into action? He could gain great good will if he acted with urgency now. I was disappointed to hear him say today that he had nothing to bring out of the hat to help the traffic shambles at Queensferry.
1220 Dealing now with Shotton, I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) about how Gwynydd and North-West Wales could be greatly hurt if the Shotton steel works were to be downgraded and if it lost its steel making plant. In his efforts to retain steelmaking at Shotton, I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman has pressed the case for a new ore terminal at Morpeth Dock, Birkenhead, which I am told could take very large ore tankers and thus prevent Shotton from being described, as it was recently, by implication, by Lord Melchett, as a three-legged horse in the steel production race. I know, too, that Shotton has baffled the corporation's moguls, because it has consistently been a profit maker.
If the steel men of Shotton are denied their right to make steel in the 1980s they will have been robbed of their birthright. Half-hearted compromises on Deeside will be useless. Shotton steel men want to see full investment in new steel-making processes. They and their families know that they have done well for the industry in the past and, as their Member, I believe that they deserve a vote of confidence for the future.
I have serious doubts that the Government can muster enough retraining forces to cope with the 7,000 jobs lost, even over a period of years. I also doubt that the Government agencies can cope with providing so many new jobs in East Flint-shire. Those same agencies must also cater for many other areas. I hope that the Government realise that if we are not retained as a steel-making plant it will be but a decade before proposals are made for closing down the whole works at Shotton. Are the Government not aware that the cost of transporting metal to Shotton, from wherever it comes, will be astronomical and will always rise? Have the Government considered the response of the steelmen when they are told that they cannot make their own metal and must import that of another? Everyone on Deeside fears some form of industrial response to circumstances such as these.
I urge the Government to settle for an annual production target of about 40 million tons. In this context, Shotton might be saved, with other vulnerable 1221 steel communities which it appears will suffer in the years ahead. The tragedy is that if the Government are bone-headed enough to limit development at Shotton the likelihood is that such a decision will be lasting, in view of the rate of technological change, even if there is a change of Government heart in later years. I hasten to add that the fight for Shotton as a steel-making plant will continue, and that although Lord Melchett appears to have bewitched the Government he has not convinced my constituents.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
I shall be as brief as possible. The Secretary of State keeps reiterating his belief in the growth towns policy for mid-Wales. That surely means giving special support to the planned growth of such towns, as in the case of Newtown. But nothing seems to happen. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has been asked time and again to extend the remit of the development corporation of Newtown to other towns. When does he intend to do this? I sometimes wish that he had said that he was opposed to the growth towns policy because, as with so many other Government policies, we might have had a reversal by now and some action.
I want to deal with the master of the half truth, because in Welsh Grand Committee when I, with others, raised the subject of a Welsh health council, the Minister replied that he would supply the names of the organisations which oppose such a regional body. He said that I would be surprised by the names on that list. I have the list of the 29 organisations which were invited to comment, and nine of them commented adversely. Among those were Caerphilly Urban District Council, Ebbw Vale Urban District Council and North Monmouthshire HMC. I have checked with these bodies. They were not so opposed to a regional authority. They wanted an elected Welsh Council to play its part in this.
Rhondda Borough Council, in a letter to the Secretary of State, made some interesting remarks. The Town Clerk said:The Committee resolved that they record their great dissatisfaction with the proposals contained in the White Paper and I was 1222 instructed to convey to the Secretary of State the following particular objections.The second objection isThat there is in Wales no intermediate tier in the organisational structure.That does not appear to be an objection to a Welsh health council.
The Welsh Council commented adversely, for obvious reasons. It has more power when there is not another body looking into its work. The Welsh Hospital Board apparently objected, but not because it was against a regional tier. It wanted a body stronger than that which the Secretary of State was intending to create.
For these reasons, the Secretary of State has dropped the idea altogether, when these bodies surely were not objecting to a Welsh health council such as the English regions are to have. In view of that criticism, will the Secretary of State change his mind and set up a Welsh health council? It is not too late to revise policy.
I turn to a matter which is becoming a serious problem in rural Wales—the question of cottages which are being sold as holiday cottages. The Secretary of State is well aware of the problem. These properties are being used as second homes, or holiday homes. I appreciate that in many instances these cottages would have become derelict if they had not been purchased for these purposes.
Concern is felt because these properties now fetch inflated prices, which are out of reach of the local working population, thus further exacerbating depopulation in the area, for the purchasers often occupy the properties for a small proportion of the year. We are creating ghost villages. Improvement grants have helped to make these cottages a very attractive proposition. Some people have suggested that the grants should be withheld if the cottages are to be used for second homes. I know there can be difficulties here. I believe that the cottages would still be purchased even if the grants were withheld.
The time has come for the Secretary of State to act. May I suggest his course of action? Since the new district councils would be responsible for housing in their areas, and since they have the power to purchase houses, will the Secretary of State give special assistance to councils 1223 to invest in these properties? Some of the cottages are in remote places. We are told that no local persons would live in them. In that case, the councils could use them as holiday cottages if unable to find permanent tenants. Those properties would thereby be occupied for a greater proportion of the year than at present. That may not provide the complete answer, but if the Secretary of State is concerned he may take some action along those lines.
One difficulty experienced with improvement grants is that if the local authority is in receipt of a grant for modernising any of its own properties it receives the money spread over 20 years, whereas the local authority must immediately pay whoever is doing the job. That leads inevitably to far greater expense for the local authority, because over the period of 20 years it pays many times over for the original grant. When will the Secretary of State seek to change that situation, and change the rule so that the local authority can receive the money in one lump sum payment?
I had intended mentioning steel, since my constituency borders on Ebbw Vale. Others have mentioned that subject. Suffice it for me to mention that our difficulties are added to because of the target production figure. If only the Government would give a target figure of about 40 million tons many of the diffities, although not being completely removed, would be lessened. It would help absolve us from importing steel in the near future, because that is what is likely to happen.
In Brynmawr we are seeing this month the anniversary of the closure of a modern factory. It is still empty. That is why the people of the area are adamant in their request for a development corporation for the Heads of the Valleys, because they see that present solutions are not sufficient. We have empty premises there. We want them occupied.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)
Despite the time which has elapsed since the report was compiled, today's debate concerns the document "Wales 1971". Certainly whatever else can be said about 1971, it was a most significant year for 1224 Wales. It was the first full year of office of the present Government. It was the first year, for a long time, when unemployment exceeded 50,000 people in Wales, apart from the bad winter years of 1962 and 1963. The two disasters, high unemployment and a Tory Government, are not entirely unconnected in the minds of the people of Wales.
There would be little point in labouring the figures for 1971 and going over that ground again were it not for the bitter fact that the unemployment figures for Wales were even worse in 1972 than they were in 1971. Already 11 months of this year have elapsed. The figures are known. For seven out of the 11 months of this year unemployment in Wales has exceeded the 50,000 mark.
The Opposition say that those figures did not just happen, that they were brought about by the deliberate policies of a Government which first abolished investment grants because they were useless and then restored them, a Government which decided to abolish the regional employment premium and are now talking about something else, a Government which abolished the Industrial Reorgansation Corporation, and a Secretary of State for Wales who made his early cuts in public expenditure but today extolls the advantages of increased high levels of public expenditure.
We on this side welcome the reversal of some of those decisions. But our point is that if the earlier decisions had not been made some of the unemployed included in the figure of 50,000 would still be in employment.
The second charge is that the Government won the Election in June 1970 on the formal promise to reduce unemployment at a stroke. Since that time both the Government and, particularly, the Secretary of State for Wales have been far too complacent in their attitude to unemployment in the principality.
The first time the Secretary of State for Wales spoke in the Welsh Grand Committee, in December 1970, referring to the period in office of the Labour Government, he said:the full impact of that period"—the period of the Labour Government—and the policies which obtained during that period can be seen from the unemployment figures.1225 He said that during that period,Wales shared in full measure in that misery.If "misery" is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman called the unemployment figure under the Labour Government, what does he think Wales is going through now under the much increased figure which the present Government have foisted on the people? It is a disaster. I am sorry that he is not here because I want to tell him that we do not need a lecture by him on so many occasions about the effects of unemployment in the Principality.
The Tory philosophy, as applied in 1971 and 1972, shows that the Government are as disastrous and as futile to the people of Wales as any Tory Government have ever been in the past. In that debate in the Welsh Grand Committee, the Secretary of State continued in that complacent attitude of his to which we have become well accustomed. He said:The Committee will be pleased to know that industrial development in Wales, far from flagging, is increasing.He gave us his usual selective figures and told us that they should… allay certain fears which have been expressed about the future of industrial development in Wales."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 9th December 1970; c. 8 and 16.]After all that brilliant forecasting, what has happened? Were our fears unfounded? Not a bit. Unemployment, at 38,975 in December 1970, rose to 51,000 by December 1971, and reached one of a number of peaks of 55,000 by April 1972. Even now, despite the fact that we are using a slightly different recording system for unemployment figures, which is more favourable to the Government, the unemployment figure in Wales stood at 46,085 in November, 1972, which means that there are now 13,000 extra unemployed in Wales, thanks to a Tory Government.
Of course we welcome the fact that in the last two months there has been some drop in the level of unemployment. The right hon. and learned Gentleman chided us recently at Question time by saying that we had failed to show the due pleasure which the fall in unemployment should have given us Our pleasure is far more genuine than his. When work is found for 1,000 unemployed in Wales, 1226 they do not represent figures on the table for us; they represent more even than our constituents, which is more than can be said for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. When unemployment falls, it is not only our constituents who benefit but our families, our neighbours, the people we live with and were brought up with. We want work for all of them.
Of course we welcome the drop in unemployment, including last month's fall of 0.1 per cent. It means a thousand more people in work. But we cannot, and will not, congratulate a Secretary of State or any Government who have allowed unemployment to rise in Wales from 33,000 in June 1970 to 46,000 in November 1972—a 40 per cent. increase. It is nothing to congratulate the Government about. Why should they be so complacent about it?
Among the 46,000 needing and deserving special attention and help are the long-term unemployed. In the main they are people in their forties and fifties. Older workers have greater difficulty in obtaining employment again. The August issue of the Department of Employment Gazette showed that of 16,000 men unemployed over a period of six months 10,000 were over 40. What happens to these people? After a period of unemployment lasting six months, they lose their earnings-related supplement. According to the latest figures available —August 1972–18 per cent. of the unemployed in Wales have lost their earnings-related supplement. After 312 days of unemployment they lose their unemployment benefit. That means that in August 1972 a further 25 per cent. of the unemployed in Wales lost their unemployment benefit.
In the early days of unemployment it is reasonable for families to cushion themselves by their savings and by the fact that they do not need to buy clothing, replace domestic utensils and things of that nature. But the longer the period of unemployment the greater the need for the replacement of those essential items. It is at that time that such families are forced on to supplementary benefit.
It is all very well for people to talk glibly about scroungers existing lavishly on supplementary benefit. That is the biggest nonsense ever talked. We should all remind ourselves of the levels at which many of the families in Wales are forced 1227 to live by reliance on the supplementary benefit scale—for example, a husband, wife and one child aged four years living on £12.55 a week. We can show that the supplementary benefit scale is not adequate to bring up families in Wales.
The families of the long-term unemployed know of the financial hardship, the loss of self-respect and the danger to the family when the family is unable to fulfil the functions of a normal family. If we believe that the family unit is the source of strength of our society, these families need our help now.
We have recently given cash payments to the old-age pensioners. They deserve and need it. But the payments were necessary for two reasons: first, because of the inadequate level of existing pensions, and, secondly, because of the massive price increases which have been brought about by the Government. Those two reasons, as true as they are for old-age pensioners, are equally valid for the long-term unemployed, the disabled and a host of others.
But the long-term unemployed need more than cash benefits; they need work. There is something which can be done to help them. They are suffering from poverty more than any other section of the unemployed. I refer to "Operation Eyesore" and similar schemes.
The grants which are available under such schemes could be tied more closely to job creation. When a council applies for an extra grant for that sort of scheme it should be told "You can have the money. We will pay the additional grant provided you create work." Preferential treatment could thus be given to the long-term unemployed, who need special consideration in cash terms and in work provision. "Operation Eyesore" and similar schemes should be used to give these people a chance to work not only for themselves but to preserve the dignity of their families.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)
In the few minutes that are available to each hon. Member who wants to take part in the debate, I shall use my time to mention two matters of constituency interest.
First is the pollution which has arisen through the dumping of industrial waste 1228 at the Maindy and Brofisan quarries in my constituency. The Minister of State will know that I have asked Questions about it and I have pursued the matter over many months. I have been content to do so, without seeking publicity, in the belief that the Minister of State would share my concern and because some reports were fairly optimistic whereas others were not. However, I should remind the House that because of commercial secrecy on the part of the manufacturers, industrial toxic chemicals have been dumped in quarries in my constituency by Industrial Waste Disposal Limited and by Purle Brothers, the company which took it over. They were dumped there and produced a situation rather like the Sorcerer's Apprentice, who conjured up forces which he could not control.
Both the Minister and I have disturbing information which suggests that we have been looking for the wrong things. Many separate chemicals have been dumped in the quarry. They include poly-chlorinated biphenyls, many chemicals which are in themselves undesirable or harmful, and many others which, while harmless in themselves, become toxic in combination with PCBs. Although there are no precisely defined safety limits for the level of PCBs in any concentration, it is safe to assume on the evidence from the United States that both the Minister and I have seen that the levels of PCBs and toxics in the quarries are higher than are considered safe by the experts.
The second worrying fact is the persistence of PCBs and the other chemicals; their toxicity will persist over many years. It has been estimated that PCB is twice as persistent as DDT, which can harm animals and plant life many years after its use. Therefore, the toxicity to which the quarries have been subjected, now leaching out to affect parts of my constituency, is likely to last for a number of years. It pollutes streams and spreads its harm to more distant parts.
I know from experience that the effect of heavy rain upon the quarries is such as to make the areas dirty, smelly and thoroughly unpleasant. The Maindy quarry is situated on what was a very pleasant country road, but on a wet day it is now a loathsome sight with the yellow substances peculiar to PCBs welling up on to the public road as well as on to the quarries. When we talk about 1229 degradation of the environment, we surely mean that sort of thing.
But that is not all the problem. It seems that not only are the chemicals unpleasant, offending people's sensibility and making the area difficult and unpleasant to live in or walk past, but they constitute a danger to animal and plant life. There is evidence that PCB is passed on in the food chain from fish and that it might be harmful to human beings. I must emphasise that it does not represent a threat of serious illness immediately, but if there is any hazard to human beings or any risk of the environment's suffering, public anxiety must be allayed quickly, because the Brofisan area in particular may well be the subject of further development, despite what my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert) says.
The serious point is that if there is to be further development, there must be a safety certificate for the Brofisan quarry first. Therefore, I ask the Government to set up an immediate and thorough inquiry into the tips, to establish the truth about what is in them, establish whether our latest information about the toxicity and likely effect on the environment is true, and if so what steps are needed to remedy the position. Nothing less will satisfy the area.
Regrettably, the company concerned is too slow to do anything about the situation. We do not need to be alarmist, but we must not shirk facts because they are unpleasant. The Government must not leave the anxieties unallayed. Neither the Government nor the firm concerned must evade their responsibilities.
I pass quickly to another matter affecting my constituency. Here I expect a lead from the Welsh Office. I refer to the current campaign to preserve Cow-bridge Grammar School. Many aspects of this campaign are disturbing; first, the question of misinformation on the part of those who signed the information; secondly, the expensive way in which the objectors are able to mount a Press campaign and the unbalanced way in which the Press has reported the various sides of the argument.
Cowbridge Grammar School is undoubtedly proud of its history. Surely Northern Ireland has taught us that we cannot afford to be prisoners of history. 1230 If we do, we make our present and our future that much more uncertain.
They talk, too, about the need to preserve an educational system which will preserve the able. What have we had for the last century but a grammar school system which creamed off the able and left the secondary modern children to fend for themselves? That always presupposes that it is possible to choose those who are able at 11-plus, whereas in truth the 11-plus examination was both unscientific and inaccurate, and it produced many failures.
These parents would be much better employed studying the constructive work of comprehensive education throughout Wales where it is well established and join in the efforts of those in the locality who have already waged a campaign which caused Glamorgan County Council to modify its plan so as to set up a comprehensive school for Cowbridge as well as for Llantwit Major. None of them played a part in that campaign.
I believe that in the interests of all the children throughout the constituency as opposed to the privileged minority for whom it is sought to retain privileges by such means as parades of vintage cars the Secretary of State should come out in support of the comprehensive system which has been shown to be for the overall good and which is now coming to fruition. If we accede to this campaign to retain a grammar school we shall have made a mockery of equality of opportunity and shall have thrown back our educational system to an earlier era of privilege which will be destructive of the happiness of many thousands of children.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Neath)
The debate has concerned itself with important subjects such as health, housing, roads, transport, unemployment, the environment, bilingual road signs. I will concern myself with one subject; namely, the steel industry.
The section of the report concerned with the iron and steel industry begins with this statement:The year was a disappointing one for the British steel industry".I wonder what superlatives the report will find to describe the situation which besets the industry when we see it next year. The 1231 reasons given in the report for the disappointment expressed about the industry were the fall in output, the slow rate of economic growth, the decline in industrial investment, and substantial reductions in manufacturers' inventories, including steel stocks.
That is hardly a record of achievement for the Secretary of State to be proud of. We are now told that dramatic improvements are taking place. The Secretary of State told us that today. We are told that there is economic growth, though even this is not so marked as the Government would have us believe according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which asserts in its report that the United Kingdom economy is probably running at about 1 per cent. below the official target of the Government of a 5 per cent. growth rate per year. The report goes on to warn of a balance of payments deficit of perhaps £300 million next year.
Faced with that warning about the true state of the economy, with what we are currently being told about the future prospects for the steel industry, and with the opening words of the Secretary of State's report concerned with the steel industry, I do not see how anyone can face next year in the industry with any confidence that the industry will be anything but worse than obtained this year.
That is a most pessimistic view of an industry which has had to survive the rigours of the views of pessimists for a long time. At the end of the day the pessimists have been proved wrong before, and I see no reason why they should prove to he any more correct on this occasion. That is, of course, provided that the Government are prepared to listen and to act upon what they are told. I utter one word of caution to them, however. There are many experts who have been giving freely of their advice about the steel industry. Perhaps I should at this point declare my interest. I am a member of the largest trade union in the steel industry. There are references in the report to investments in the steel industry in Wales which have already been announced. They add up to a considerable future for the industry in the Principality, and those Jeremiahs who are now talking about its demise do neither 1232 the industry nor the workers in it any favours.
That is not to say that there is no cause for concern. There are one or two facts about the industry which those who have not had the privilege of being connected with it do not know about. First, the workers are not Luddites; they do not fear or resist change when it comes as a result of technological innovation. Secondly, they do not resort to industrial action simply at the bidding of people outside, as has been suggested of late. Such suggestions are being rejected quite forcibly within the industry. The workers are prepared to accept change peacefully, as can be seen from any study of the way in which the great changes came about in the tinplate industry in the late 1940s and the early 1950s. That situation can be achieved once more in respect of the present course of rationalisation but it can be done only if people know that the rationalisation is being carried out justly and with an understanding of what is required. There is not much sign of either of those qualities in the situation at Ebbw Vale or Shotton.
One fact about the steel industry in Wales must be clearly understood. There is no such thing as a Welsh steel industry. Our industry is an integral part of the United Kingdom industry, and if this situation is tinkered about with as some would attempt to do it is not only in Cardiff, Ebbw Vale and Shotton that difficulties will arise; they will spread throughout the whole of the industry in Wales. It has been suggested that if only we had a Welsh Parliament or a Welsh TUC the troubles in the industry in Wales would not exist. Such suggestions are nonsense. Our problems in Wales are tied up with the problems of the United Kingdom industry, and among those problems is the fact that for the last 2½ years the industry has had to operate in a climate of uncertainty created by the Government's doctrinaire approach. Valuable time has been lost, but it is not too late for the Government to listen and act. They have recently thrown over other of their childish policies. Let them throw over more in respect of the steel industry.
I read in Sunday's Press that a great re-think about the steel industry is in progress. I ask the Government to let the British Steel Corporation get on with 1233 its plans without Government interference. Only in this way will the industry be given the necessary elbow room to absorb the changes which it and its workers must have if it is to keep pace with the progress that is taking place in steel making. The industry has always been able with good sense to overcome its problems in the past. Let me appeal to the Government to allow the industry to do the same thing in the present circumstances by letting it make the investment it believes to be sensible and not that which the Government wish to impose upon it.
There is a proper future for the steel industry in Wales. There anxieties of Ebbw Vale, Shotton and Cardiff can be resolved, but the solution will require that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has courage, the courage to tell the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to put aside the ideas they had about the British steel industry when they were elected to Government. If he does this he will be able to report a far more satisfactory position in the iron and steel industry in Wales next year. If he does not have the courage, Heaven help the steel industry of Wales and Heaven help him.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. William Edwards (Merioneth)
I am aware that I am trespassing on Front Bench time and I am grateful for a few minutes in which to express my interest in the main thing which concerns me as the Member for Merioneth on this Welsh day, namely, the future of the Welsh language. I refer to that future in a context different from that chosen by the Welsh Language Society. The Welsh language and its future is not tied to signposts or to forms but to the livelihood and well-being of the Welsh-speaking areas of Wales.
It is in the context of what the Government do for those areas that their good will towards the language will he examined. We have heard today about nursery schools. Nursery schools allocated to Welsh-speaking areas would have done a great deal more good than signposts, be they in Welsh or English. I am not saying that the money should not be spent but that it could have been better spent. As a Welshman I greatly resent the fact that the timetable of priorities is chosen for the Government by a small 1234 minority that is not responsible to anyone or anything except a political campaign.
My constituency is probably one of the main Welsh-speaking areas of Wales. At the moment it contains an advance factory which has been empty for three years in a town where, to my knowledege, 25 per cent. of the parents who send their children to school are in receipt of State supplement. I have another town where a converted corporation-built factory is empty. Another town is still waiting for the Government to decide on their policy about growth towns. That is a town, incidentally, where the Nationalists who now talk so much about preserving the language, opposed to the bitter end any plan that we had to develop the town into a small, viable, modern Welsh-speaking community.
It is in this context that I am concerned about the future of the Welsh language. People talk about holiday homes, but the Welsh-speaking people in the rural areas cannot afford to live in the places they would wish to. We will not have some crowd of long-haired beatniks telling Welsh-speaking working people where they ought to live. They want to live in small townships but they cannot afford the price of a house in such a place, while the local authorities cannot afford to build houses in such small townships.
We need a radical reappraisal of policy. The Labour Party must do this—the party responsible, I hope, for the next Government within Wales. Our present policies will not suffice. We must have more grants, better grants, more sophisticated grants. What is needed most of all is personnel to replace the loss of manpower and expertise that has taken place in mid-Wales over many years. Some of my hon. Friends have decried the need for such expertise. We can do with it in mid-Wales. If we had a free-ranging development corporation dealing with the specific problems of mid-Wales and hacked by Government money then I believe that there would he a future for the Welsh language. Without it there is none.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
General debates on Welsh affairs have been an established feature of the life 1235 of this House for upwards of a quarter of a century. Not one of them has taken place in such an atmosphere of uncertainty and apprehension concerning the future of Wales as now exists. The jeopardy in which the Government have placed the Welsh sector of the steel industry is probably the greatest threat which, economically speaking, could imperil the Welsh community, affected as it is to such an extent and in so many direct and indirect ways by the fortunes of steel, its main industry. It could hardly have come at a worse time for Wales, with 46,000 of our fellow countrymen out of work, and that at the beginning of a winter period. It could hardly have come at a worse time for the British economy, facing, as it is, the frightening trilogy of misfortune of continuing inflation, heavy unemployment and a widening balance of payments deficit.
My colleagues have dealt in generous detail with the current failures of the Secretary of State and therefore it will not be necessary for me to add more than one or two instances to that already long and depressive list. In some respects what is even more depressing than the failure of the Secretary of State to meet the immediate needs of Wales is his apparent failure to give thought to some of the massive and complex issues which confront him in the foreseeable future. I am sure he will not object if I say, as I have said on previous occasions, that his speech was distinguished more by what was not in it than by what was contained therein. Despite constant questioning by hon. Members on this side of the House for 30 months he has managed to leave us without a clue as to his thinking in so many fields vital for the community of Wales.
No word has fallen from the lips of the Secretary of State about how he sees the future demand for labour in Wales. Where, for instance, are the thousands who have been trained in the last few years in Government training centres likely to find work? What surveys have been made as to where those who have already been trained and have left those centres have already managed to find work, if, indeed, they have? Does he, for instance, see any flattening out of the curve in the continuing fall in the number of male jobs in Wales?
1236 What progress does he envisage in the next three years in improving the activity rate, or what surveys, if any, have been made in relation to the comparative benefit to Welsh industry of investment grants as opposed to investment allowances? What advantage, what significance, to the Welsh economy does and did regional employment premium have, and what are the likely consequences of phasing that out after 1974? Particularly, how alarmed is he by Professor Graham Rees's calculation published a few months ago that by 1976 there will be a shortfall of at least 49,000 male jobs in Wales? This calculation, after all, was made quite some time before we were preoccupied with the direct threat to at least 16,000 jobs in the steel industry in Wales.
In all these matters the Secretary of State maintains the same disciplined muteness as if he were a hardened IRA defendant. There is no evidence that the Secretary of State or the Minister of State, who, next to him, graces the Front Bench, and against whose inspired irrelevancies in some 20 minutes' time we are steeling ourselves, have given any thought at all to these and other similar matters. If they have, let them now tell the House the fruits of their meditation. Whose advice are they getting? Are they getting advice from the Delphic oracles of the Department of Trade and Industry, the sages of the Economics Division of the Welsh Office or the dark knights of the Treasury? I doubt that they are receiving any advice from the Welsh Council, for over the last 18 months that body appears more and more to function as an apologist for Government actions and its reports are becoming more and more glutinously sycophantic.
Of more vital consequence is the complete absence of any comprehensive and strategic plan for the long-term Welsh economy. No doubt the Secretary of State and his colleague will recoil in outrage at such a suggestion, but it is quite useless to will the ends whilst at the same time denying the means. Time and again the Secretary of State seems to accept, as if it were part of divine ordination, that disadvantageous conditions common to the whole of the United Kingdom affect Wales to a great degree than most other areas. Of course the 1237 general prosperity of Wales is closely bound up with that of the British economy as a whole. We are none of us devotees of economic separatism, but it is nevertheless utterly wrong to regard it as natural that the Welsh people should be eternally condemned to being the weaker member of the United Kingdom economy, always catching pneumonia when our neighbours manage to sneeze.
There is no inevitability about the disparities which the Welsh people have traditionally suffered in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom. The Secretary of State should remember that the Welsh Office was created for the very purpose of challenging that proposition to its root and foundation rather than accepting it in a supine manner.
Many of these disparities and indigenous weaknesses are known. For 50 years we have had a rate of unemployment in excess of the United Kingdom rate, and constantly considerably higher than that of England. Again, our activity rate is only 85 per cent. of that of the United Kingdom. Our gross domestic product per head of the population is only £565 compared with £661 for the United Kingdom as a whole. For almost a decade we have had a steady decline in male employment. From most parts of Wales there is a steady flow of the young and active moving out to work and to rear families in other areas, and we still have heavy dependence upon a few basic industries. These and many similar conditions are much too serious to play political ping-pong with. It is, however, impossible to separate an evaluation and appreciation of these facts from basic political attitudes. One looks upon them either in a progressive, radical way or in a reactionary way.
Looking at the last quarter century in Wales, it is not an exaggeration to say that the industrial policies of Labour Governments in that period have been wholly antithetic, wholly opposite, to the policies pursued by Conservative Administrations. Labour Governments challenged the situation with which they were confronted by industrial policies built around the Distribution of Industry Act 1945 and later post-1964 regional policies that were created around the Industrial Development Act 1966.
1238 In consequence of those attitudes, very soon after the Labour Government took office in 1945 the rate of capital formation in Wales was 2½ times that of the United Kingdom as a whole. By the time the 1964 Labour Government had been in office for a substantial period—certainly by 1969–70, the end of that decade —much more was being paid annually towards regional development in Wales than was envisaged for the whole of the United Kingdom at the beginning of the decade under a Conservative Administration.
On taking office Conservative Governments have descended on these philosophies with a destructive gusto. The fact that they had the malice aforethought of doctrinal evangelism makes it all the more serious. Post-1951, almost the whole of Wales was de-scheduled as a development area. Almost immediately the rate of capital formation slipped, until ultimately it fell and became very much nearer to that of the United Kingdom as a whole, although the needs of Wales at the time were enormous compared with those in the rest of the country.
We all know the sorry consequences which attended the assumption of power by the Conservative Administration in 1970 and their abolition of investment grants. There was a clear abandonment of the advance factory programme—and perhaps the Minister of State, in an outburst of candour when he replies tonight, will say exactly what plans the Government have for advance factories and why in a period of 2½ years they have managed to allocate only six factories. Perhaps he will also explain the Government's thinly veiled misrepresentation of the situation by giving the greatest detail in respect of those factories which had been allocated, not when we were in Government but only at the present time, when they have been handed out to tenants. Again we clearly see their floppiness in administering their industrial development certificate programme. In addition to appeasing their European masters they are willing to sabotage the Welsh steel industry and thereby to strike at the heart and foundation of our most important industry.
I turn briefly to deal with a few specific topics. A large number of speeches have referred to the Welsh language, and 1239 in particular the Bowen Report on bilingual signs. I am glad that the Government, after a gestation period of five months, have managed to reach a conclusion. I am sure that every hon. Member gladly pays tribute to the work done by my predecessor, Mr. Roderic Bowen, and those who formed the committee. The vast majority of people in this House, and certainly the people of Wales, desire to see the Welsh language preserved.
We in Wales, whether, by chance, we have been brought up in a Welsh-speaking home or a non-Welsh-speaking home regard our language as part of the Welsh heritage. Many people outside Wales will join in accepting that a nation's language is part of its culture, and will see it as part of a nation's moral duty to safeguard language as we would safeguard the very best that comes from the hands of a sculptor, a painter or an architect. It is a priceless and irreplaceable treasure.
But we should put the Bowen Report in perspective before going to the stake or chaining ourselves to the Prime Minister's railings about it. The Bowen Report dealt with one aspect of the life of the Welsh language. It is ironic that the two most excellent reports that we have had in the past 10 years have each dealt with one limited, narrow specific aspect. The Hughes-Parry Report dealt with the legal status of the Welsh language. The Bowen Report dealt with bilingual road signs. I make no party point when I remind right hon. and hon. Members that no survey has been made of the totality of the situation.
How can any Minister of the Crown or any Member of Parliament say that with the limited funds available it is on one specific point that intervention in favour of the Welsh language would be most decisive? That would be possible only after a comprehensive examination of the life of the language, followed by a decision about the priorities which should be applied. After all, many of us attach the highest priority to improving the content and the standard of radio and television programmes in the Welsh language for very young children. All my life I have advocated that one way in which vast territory could be won back for the Welsh language is through the establishment of bilingual nursery schools. At that young malleable age of two, three 1240 or four I am certain that wonders could be performed in this connection.
I mention briefly a matter which many of us have advocated over the years. I ask the House to consider seriously whether the time has not come to think in terms of a permanent Royal Commision for the Welsh language which would have as its duty the coordination of the efforts now made in relation to the language, the making of reports which would be presented to Parliament every two or three years on the state and condition of the language, responsibility for the preparation of translations, responsibility for the disbursement of grants which are now in the hands of other bodies, not all of them wholly satisfactory, and, above all, a commission staffed by Welshmen of the highest calibre representing all walks of life, some Welsh-speaking, others not, but all dedicated to the idea of drawing the Welsh language out of the cockpit of vituperative politics and conflicts.
One commodity above all else is crucial to the future of the Welsh language—the commodity of goodwill. With that, the language can be and will be. Without it, it has no hope of facing the future. Legal status is there only to create a social status. It is not the status which is given by Statute or by any administrator that matters at the end of the day. What matters is the status that the language has in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales, especially those who do not speak it at the moment. Without that good will there is a grave danger that the language will face extinction.
Railway lines in Wales also face extinction. When we debated communications in Wales on 15th December last year the Secretary of State acknowledged the glaring deficiencies that existed in relation to passenger transport in Wales. With regard to road, rail and air the situation was completely inadequate to meet the needs of modern Wales. It was at that point that the Secretary of State announced the Graham Rees study. The strong impression given to all hon. Members who were present in the Welsh Grand Committee was that it was to be a comprehensive study that would report in three to four years and that, having reported, consideration would then be given to the situation and, on the basis 1241 of that consideration, strategic decisions would be arrived at on the future of the transport system in Wales.
Indeed, this impression was very much underlined by the Secretary of State, who said:The study will involve a wide-ranging look at the pattern of communications throughout Wales and future needs. I hope it will help to establish criteria on which future decisions can be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 15th December 1971; c. 16.]In October this year The Sunday Times had the effrontery to publish the truth about what was going on in the Department of the Environment regarding our railway lines. Over the whole of 8ritain there was to be a savage surgery. It was an almost total demise in Wales.
The question which must be asked is: where stands the Graham Rees study in this matter of the plan by the Department of the Environment to do away with practically all our railways, apart from the Chester-Holyhead and Newport-Fish-guard lines?
§ Sir A. Meyer
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to mislead the House. Is he suggesting that this is "the" plan? It is merely "a" plan.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
I am not suggesting that this is "the" plan. There are two other plans. We have not been told by any Minister whether those two other plans are for a rail network even smaller than that envisaged by the plan published in The Sunday Times. No Minister is willing to tell us whether those plans were more or less drastic than the plan which saw the light of day through the courtesy of The Sunday Times.
We have asked the Secretary of State to confirm that no decision will be taken on the Cambrian coastline, for example, until the Graham Rees study reports. We have asked the Minister for Transport Industries to give a similar undertaking on the loss-making lines of Wales. Out of 624 miles of passenger rail track in Wales, 560 are loss making. At the end of this year all those lines are up for consideration, whether they are to exist or not.
Did the Secretary of State, when he made that announcement on 15th December 1971, know of or have any reason to believe the existence of the plan which was eventually published in 1242 The Sunday Times? Did he have any knowledge at all of any of the facts which saw the light of day in that publication in October 1972? I should be glad to give way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman to answer that vital question.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
I have time and again answered this question. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should try to mislead the people of Wales, who are anxious about the future of communications, by pretending that this working document, of which there are many, was a plan.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan
The Secretary of State has been invited to say whether he knew of the existence of the working document. He has not denied it. Therefore, the House and the country can come to only one conclusion on that matter. That means that on the part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Government there is blatant hypocrisy on any question of regional development in Wales. What Government wanting to bring about regional prosperity would at the same time deprive a country of almost the whole of its rail system?
I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) said about the urgency of developing the towns of mid-Wales other than new towns which now represent the rump, as it were, of what was in the Labour Government's time a bold and comprehensive plan to develop the whole of mid-Wales. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) pledged our party to setting up a development agency in rural Wales when we are next in Government—an agency which would not operate through compulsory powers. They were not important with the Rural Development Board, but they were the very basis for the ruthless exploitation of that situation which we saw in Wales when there was the most malicious and unprincipled attack which could ever be made on any Government plan.
There are many matters that I should have liked to refer to, but I am afraid that time, the old enemy, has forestalled me. When the Secretary of State took up his post in the mid-summer of 1970 he 1243 assured the people of Wales that his one aim and policy was to improve the condition of life of the Welsh people. I did not then and I do not now question his genuineness, but what I do question are the methods that he has employed in an attempt to bring that about.
§ Mr. Morgan
He has acquiesced in policies which could not fail to raise the level of unemployment in Wales to a record point. He has pursued a housing policy which produces on average 5,000 fewer houses per annum than the average achieved by the Labour Government. He has been a party to the Housing Finance Act, which imposes an unnecessary burden upon hundreds of thousands of families in Wales. With regard to transport, either he is the innocent victim of a plan to deprive Wales of the whole of its railways or he has actively conspired to bring this about. He is so cocooned in frustrations concerning day-to-day matters that he can no longer give any thought to the longer-term problems whose solution is so crucial to the future of the nation community of Wales.
The Secretary of State has presided over the most disastrous period that Wales has seen since the end of the Second World War. We know that worse will again inevitably follow if this Government remain in office.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Mr. David Gibson-Watt)
I have heard most of this debate, with the exception of one or two speeches. I certainly heard the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan). We on this side have a little difficulty hearing him because he spends a good deal of time trying to convince the faithful. Although his profile and his back are excellent in every way, he should allow us to hear a little of the argument some time.
§ Sir A. Meyer
Would my hon. Friend not agree that speakers at the Opposition Dispatch Box are very wise not to turn their backs on their own supporters?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
My hon. Friend must not lead me away from my theme, but he is on to something.
I agreed with part of the speech of the hon. Member for Cardigan, but he was not on to a very good thing when arguing with my right hon. and learned Friend about communications. He did not put up a very impressive case. He will understand the phrase if I say that it was a bit of old-fashioned police court advocacy which I have heard done before—
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
My hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Geraint Morgan) spoke about Colcon. I realise what this must mean to any hon. Member through whose constituency such a major road goes. In July this year my right hon. and learned Friend published his preferred line for the A55 St. Asaph to Aber "Colcon" road. We have, therefore, already taken extensive steps to publicise this matter in a document which dealt with 45 alternative routes—all costed. This has enabled wide public debate to take place even before statutory orders are published, which is planned to take place next year. There will be ample opportunity for objections to be made. All objections will be carefully considered and if appropriate a public inquiry will be held.
The hon. Member for Cardigan also raised the question of North Wales roads, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Myer). In the 11 schemes to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred in his opening speech three North Wales roads were included. One was on the A550, Drome Corner to Cheshire county boundary; one was the Caernarvon inner relief road; and the third was the Britannia Bridge. There were also two in central Wales. I should not like anyone to think that North Wales or mid-Wales were excluded in this.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who had kindly warned me that he would be raising the matter in this debate, drew attention to the problem which has occurred in his constituency at the Brofiskin and Maendy quarries. He drew this matter to my attention last week. A meeting took place on Friday 1245 last at the Welsh Office in Cardiff, at which the experts employed on behalf of the Brofiskin farmers involved in this case presented new evidence, which the Welsh Office is studying urgently. This is a serious matter, on which I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman again.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Probert), who, I am told, made a very balanced and positive speech, stressed the particular problems of the Heads of the Valleys. He recommended a Heads of the Valleys development corporation, a recommendation in which he was supported by his hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick). He asked us to note the feeling in the area, which could not have been better expressed than by the hon. Member. We shall certainly do that.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) took my right hon. and learned Friend to task over the fact that he had written to the hon. Member for Cardigan when he was the chairman of the Welsh parliamentary party to ask what sort of annual report Welsh hon. Members wanted. We had a very courteous reply from the hon. Gentleman. But my right hon. and learned Friend and I, in all sincerity want to know what type of annual report Welsh hon. Members want—not only Welsh Members but Labour Members, with great respect. We did not on this occasion consult Conservative Members about this; we wrote to the Welsh parliamentary party chairman.
There is a strong case here for getting the sort of annual report that Welsh hon. Members want. What my right hon. and learned Friend said was that if there was a way of improving it, we in the Welsh Office wanted to do so.
§ Mr. George Thomas
I assure the Minister of State that he shall have a memorandum on this subject from us.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
One other point arises on a pleasantry from the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of a firm making French toiletries, to which he referred in a joking way. That was about foreign firms coming into Wales. What is important in all this is that we must not run any risk of suggesting that firms of this sort, where 850 1246 jobs are involved, a third of them being for men, are not welcome.
We have today ranged very widely over the affairs of the Principality. Rightly, great stress has been placed on the need to provide employment and on other aspects of the Government's efforts to improve the living standards of our people. My right hon. and learned Friend dealt in opening the debate with the economic questions so important to the future of the Principality. I do not wish to add to what he said except to refer to communications, a matter spoken of by several hon. Gentlemen.
Hon. Gentlemen expressed concern about the future of the railway services in Wales following the publication of a report indicating the possibility of a drastic curtailment of the railway network. My right hon. and learned Friend spoke of that a moment ago. Let me emphasize there is no Government plan to reduce the railway network. Her Majesty's Government decided in July to help the Railways Board to meet its immediate cash flow shortfall. In announcing that on 27th July the Minister for Transport Industries said that a wide-ranging review of the long-term prospects of British Railways had been put in hand.
No decisions about future railways policy will be taken until this review has been completed. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries has undertaken to report to the House on the range of choices open to the country and their social and economic implications so that Parliament and the people will be able to give an expression of their views. There will be a full opportunity for public comment before any decisions are taken.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I are, of course, fully consulted on all matters affecting the Principality. I can say at once we are well aware of the value to Wales of the present railway network.
Hon. Gentlemen are naturally concerned about the renewal of grant undertakings for unremunerative passenger services due to expire at the end of the year. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries has the formal responsibility in this matter, and he will be making an announcement of his decisions early in January.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan rose—
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I should like to finish.
Unless there were exceptional circumstances, it has been the practice to renew the grant when it falls due in respect of any service not currently the subject of a formal closure proposal. Therefore, so far as Wales is concerned, I hope we may expect that the same number of grants will be made next year as this.
One special case is the Cambrian coast line. Hon. Gentlemen will know that that line has been the subject of a most thorough and searching examination of all the arguments for keeping the service in operation. I would have hoped it might have been possible to reach a conclusion on the British Rail application for closure long before this. I am very much aware of the problems created by continuing uncertainty about the future of the line, and I fully understand the concern of those affected.
I am sure hon. Gentlemen will appreciate the care that has been taken to ensure that in this complex and difficult case the right decision will be reached. It will he a little while yet before a final decision can be announced, but I can say that the trains will continue to run next year, and that all those who are anxious to book their summer holidays and visit the many resorts which the railway serves can do so in confidence that the service will continue in the summer.
I want in winding up to review the important areas of Government activities in Wales.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan rose—
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. He exceeded his time by three minutes, as he normally does. I do not intend to give way to him.
I cannot add anything to what I have said on the subject of railways.
§ Mr. William Edwards
We have heard a statement of major importance referring to this important railway line. Could the Minister clarify the situation? Is he now saying that the Cambrian coastal railway line will be kept open for the whole of next year?
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
In winding up I want to review the important areas of Government activity in Wales for which my right hon. and learned Friend has given me special responsibility.
Apart from housing, one of my major responsibilities in Wales is for health. There has been steady progress in the improvement of health and welfare services. Gross expenditure on the health services in 1970–71 reached more than £123 million. By 1975–76 the annual expenditure on health and personal social services in Wales is expected to be about £22 million more than in 1971–72, an increase of about 18 per cent. in real terms. This very considerable increase follows the Government's recognition of the need for additional resources to be devoted to the health and personal social services. Since we took office we have made available another £19 million, over and above the allocation previously planned for the five years beginning 1971–72. Of that £19 million, £14 million has been earmarked for improvements in the hospital and community services for the elderly, the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) spoke, as he has done before about the hospital services in South-East Wales, and in Barry in particular. I know his concern about this but I fear that I can add nothing to what I have said to him on previous occasions. The resources allocated to hospital building in the five years up to and including 1976–77, about £46 million, will be used in the main to replace or improve out-of-date hospitals and services, to make good deficiencies in the services and to establish a modern pattern of services. During this period, seven schemes costing over £1 million each are planned to be completed, and the end result will be an improvement in the quality and distribution of hospital services.
Although there never is, and never will be, enough money to provide perfection, the additional money made available for the hospital services has enabled the Welsh Hospital Board to bring forward the starting dates of schemes already in its building programme and to introduce new schemes, improve conditions in older hospitals and provide new beds and day 1249 patient facilities in areas which are less well provided for.
A modern and up-to-date hospital service is vital to any health service but its development must not be at the expense of primary care facilities. We have laid great emphasis on this aspect of health care. The provision of health centres continues to be given a high priority. Progress has been rapid, and in this year a further nine have been opened. Currently 43 centres are in operation, and they have accommodation for about one in eight of the family doctors. Final approval for work to proceed has been given on a further 19 centres, with 11 more at the advanced planning stage.
Local authorities have been asked to prepare comprehensive and co-ordinated plans for expansion of the personal social services over the next 10 years. The Government expect expenditure on the personal social services to increase at about 10 per cent. a year in real terms over the next five years. The recent rate support grant negotiations allow for this growth rate, which is considerably greater than the average for local authority services generally.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
The expansion of the social services will need many more trained social workers, and the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work came into being on 1st October 1971 charged with providing training facilities in England and Wales. A Welsh committee of the Council is being established on which worker and employer interests will be represented, together with officials of my Department who will act as assessors.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
It appears that the right hon. Gentleman is not interested in matters of health and hospitals.
§ Mr. George Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I am not sitting down for the right hon. Gentleman. He is too rude. He spoke this afternoon for 49 minutes, and it was 49 minutes too long.
1250 Before I leave the subject of the local authority personal social services—
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would contain himself. Before I leave the subject of the local authority personal social services, I should like to pay tribute to the valuable rôle voluntary people have played, and will continue to play, in their development. The Council of Social Service for Wales and Monmouthshire deserves a special mention here, with all the many voluntary organisations which work in various directions. In asking the local authorities to produce their 10-year plans, I have drawn their particular attention to the need for consultation with voluntary bodies.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
Another means of promoting development in local authority social services is through the urban programme. Since 1971 we have approved 135 capital projects costing £2¾ million, submitted by 31 local authorities, and 69 non-capital projects costing nearly £200,000 submitted by 19 local authorities. The programme is intended to raise the level of social services in areas of social need.
§ Mr. George Thomas rose—
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
The right hon. Gentleman must listen to my answer. The House has been inquiring about 2½ years of the stewardship of my right hon. Friend and myself at the Welsh Office. I am telling the House about some of the things which the Government have done for Wales. [Interruption.] It is about time that the right hon. Gentleman got rid of his debating tactics and listened to the debate. [Interruption.] I can only touch on the fringes of the great efforts being made by so many workers in so many different spheres. All that I have said shows that the Government's determination to give priority to development in these areas.
I turn now to a subject which has not been mentioned by the Opposition.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a point of order. The Chair has no control over speeches made from either side.
§ Mr. Gibson-Watt
It does not surprise me that the question of agriculture was not raised by the Opposition. Agriculture happens to be a buoyant and confident industry at the moment. Three years ago farmers generally were desperately concerned. During the last three years we have changed to a situation in which output, particularly of livestock, is rising rapidly. This is a situation which has improved—[Interruption.] It is no wonder that the Opposition shout. I remember very well when a senior Minister of the last Government went to West Wales and told them that it was not worth farming unless one had 1,000 acres. That same Minister said that farmers did nothing else but go to Ascot. [Interruption.] The Opposition make more noise than they need. It is an important industry, and farmers are taking full advantage of entering the Common Market and the future position, which I think the Opposition will admit, was one of the points raised during the debate.
1252 Confidence in agriculture, particularly in livestock, has never been higher. We are having great success with the brucellosis effort. [Interruption.]
The House has given me little time to make my speech. I wished to refer to the quality of life, dereliction and of getting rid of pollution. The Opposition have not given me the courtesy of allowing me to do so. I do not complain. I expect no better of them or the right hon. Gentleman. I have known them in good times and in bad. However, what has been said tonight will be read by their fellow countrymen. They will realise that some of the matters which are important to speak upon have not been allowed—[Interruption.] It is on the policies of the present Government, a Conservative Government, that a better life depends. Nothing in the past of the Labour Party—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.