§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales made a comprehensive speech and told us the broad lines of his thinking on major Welsh problems. It is early days for us to expect from my right hon. and learned Friend an overall strategy on the economic and industrial front in Wales, and we shall look forward to hearing him again when he has had time to consider the position in greater detail.
1378 An economic and industrial strategy is certainly needed for the valleys of South Wales, the North-East, Mid-Wales and rural Wales generally. Although the introduction of a large industry from Japan, Europe or America into certain towns is very welcome, it does not comprise a strategy and we must think broadly about Wales as a whole.
For example, the Government will wish to review the policies of the previous Government, and to revive some of the policies of the last Labour Government. I am thinking in particular of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation, which I had the privilege of setting up in 1967. The corporation has achieved a great deal for Newtown and I congratulate Mr. Emrys Roberts, chairman of the corporation, his colleagues, and Mr. Garbett Edwards, the corporation's first-class secretary, on the excellent work they have done. The corporation should now be enable to work for the regeneration of other towns in Mid-Wales.
I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend is thinking about setting up a new agency, possibly along the lines of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. It cannot be precisely the same because that board covers a much vaster area which is more varied geographically. We accept that all new developments depend on the availability of money, and that is very much in our minds these days, but I am sure that the Secretary of State appreciates the need for forward planning so that we can move quickly when the economic situation improves.
The Welsh Council produced its document, "A Strategy for Rural Wales", in 1971 and its "Economic Strategy for North-West Wales" a little earlier, but no effective action was taken on those documents by the previous Government. The right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) extolled the virtues of his policy, but in Anglesey and North-West Wales generally we have experienced a period of stagnation over the last throe-and-a-half years, whereas during the term of the previous Labour Government we saw significant progress.
We know that cuts in public expenditure have harsher consequences in areas of high unemployment and depopulation than in the more prosperous regions. The 1379 previous Labour Government recognised this when cuts were made. We had winter relief programmes on roads and other services to enable men to be kept in work. My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned the cuts announced by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) in November. They were indiscriminate cuts. One hopes that future reductions may be avoided, although one must be prepared for the worst next Tuesday. In any future cuts, therefore, I hope that the wind will be tempered to the shorn lamb and that the implications for development in areas in which there is high unemployment and depopulation will be borne in mind by the Government. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will do his best in that regard.
My right hon. and learned Friend was right to refer to his joint responsibility for agriculture. It goes without saying that rural Wales must have a sound agricultural base but, as he rightly acknowledged, many sectors of the industry have gone through a difficult time in the last 18 months, mainly because of the phenomenal increase in the price of feed. I raised this subject in the House two months ago, but the position has not since then improved. Milk producers received some help in the price review, but barely enough to cover their costs. Beef and pig producers were not assisted, and the latter are in especially grave difficulty.
I received a letter from the Welsh Agricultural Organisation Society on 12th March which contained extremely disquieting statistics in respect of the Quality Pig Federation of Wales. The letter stated:Weaner production by federation groups in Wales last month was 2,000 per week as compared with 2,500 per week six months ago —a reduction of 20 per cent.We have evidence that in some groups throughput has again fallen by as much as 50 per cent. over the past two months.Weaner prices in Welsh groups increased by between 3 per cent. and 9 per cent. over the last 12 months, whereas pig food prices increased by a little over 50 per cent. during the same period; this in itself discourages any future confidence in pig production.Transport cost per mile has increased by at least 30 per cent. in the last 12 months with another increase in the pipeline following the recent increases in the cost of fuel. We in Wales are very much affected by this because 1380 of the distance between producer groups and the fatteners, the majority of whom are in England.Fat pig prices have reached disastrous levels; pork pigs were sold by some feeders of Welsh weaners at £2.30 a score live weight this week. representing a loss of approximately £7 per pork pig without taking labour, depreciation and general overheads into account.That letter discloses an extremely serious situation and I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to discuss it with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. There is a danger that the British pig industry may come to the verge of collapse if some action is not taken.
In the industrial field, notwithstanding what the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South said, my constituency has been through a stagnant period. Employment stands at 8 per cent. of the insured population. I have already spoken to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State about the vacant advance factory at Amlwch. It has been empty for the past three-and-a-half years, and it became vacant then because the investment grant was abolished by the last Government. I hope that we shall soon secure a good tenant for it.
We must give the Government credit for acting quickly and decisively on some urgent matters in a short time. The decision to freeze council house rents was widely welcome. It affects 6,000 council house tenants in Anglesey. I hope that after the poor record of the previous Government in council house building we shall very soon see some progress in new building. I appreciate the hopeful words of my right hon. and learned Friend on this subject.
I thought that the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South did himself less than justice in refusing to accept responsibility for the lamentable record of the Conservative Government on house-building. In 1973 a little over 3,000 council houses were built in Wales. This was not good enough and the former Secretary of State cannot fob it off and say that it was somebody else's resonsibility. There was a lack of push and drive both in Parliament and in the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office in Cardiff under his leadership.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
I was wondering whether the right hon. Gentleman could suggest any reasons for this decline. His Labour Party colleagues have pointed to an identical situation in 1970 and have tried to find explanations for it. Surely the decline has continued unabated since 1964.
§ Mr. Hughes
I welcome the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) to the Opposition Front Bench, but he must do better than that. He should look at the statistics. I have not the precise figures in my mind, but I recall that in 1968, when I was Secretary of State for Wales, over 20,000 houses were built of which over 10,000 were council houses. This was the result of deliberate Government policy. The funds must be found to enable the building to take place and there must also be considerable drive through the Welsh Office to the housing authorities. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has entrusted my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) with his task. Last week's announcement about a substantial addition to rate support in Wales is also welcome.
At Question Time on Monday the Secretary of State said that he and his colleagues are reviewing the position of the 75 per cent. improvement grant. I hope that we may have a statement on this very soon. We were glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South promised his support for it. This is a welcome change in attitude, because he was frigidly unreceptive when we appealed to him a few weeks ago. There is joy in Heaven at one sinner who repenteth and I am glad that the former Secretary of State for Wales has now joined this happy band.
Another inheritance from the last Government relates to the proposed increased water charges as a result of the Water Act of 1973. I have spoken of this matter to my right hon. and learned Friend and have written to him at length on it. I shall not weary the House with the detailed case because so many hon. Members want to take part in this important debate. This matter affects all Welsh water undertakings to some degree, but in some areas, including Anglesey, the proposals are ridiculous. Water charges are being increased by 422 per cent. at a 1382 time when inflation is our most serious problem. This is an unconscionable burden. I ask my right hon. Friend to take action on this subject as quickly as he can. We accept that we might have to bear some slight increase, but it is quite intolerable that we should be expected to shoulder this rate of increase.
A householder now paying £7 a year water rate will be expected to pay £29 per year after 1st April, and this is unreasonable when one bears in mind the other rate increases which are impending. This will certainly be a disincentive to industry to come into the area and will also be an additional burden to farmers. It is wrong that Anglesey County Council, a pioneering authority in this sphere—the only county council in the United Kingdom to promote its own private Bill through this House and to become a county water undertaking—should be penalised in this way. I hope that there will be immediate steps to reduce this unreasonable charge.
Our difficulties in Anglesey are being compounded for another reason as well. Anglesey ratepayers are being penalised since the Department of the Environment and the Welsh Office, in preparing the order covering differential rating for 1974–75, overlooked the fact that the Anglesey County Council is a water authority—the only one in England and Wales—and that the general county precept for 1973–74 of 36p included an amount of 4.25p in respect of the deficit on the county water undertaking. Since other counties do not have similar figures in their county precepts, the order for differential rating should have provided for the deficit on the water undertaking —a figure of 4.25p—to be omitted so that the 1973–74 precept in the counties forming the new Gwynedd Council would have been on the same basis. As a result, the county precept to be levied in Anglesey in 1974–75 of 51.1p is 3.1p more than it should be. What is now wanted is for the Department of the Environment to prepare an amending order immediately so that Anglesey ratepayers receive relief immediately and not next year.
I believe that the case I am submitting is a just one. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to take urgent action to remove these inequities, 1383 which are the cause of acute concern in my constituency.
I wish my right hon. and learned Friend every success in his office. Sir 0. M. Edwards began his History of Wales with this sentence:The history of Wales is a history of tribal warfare …All in this House will know that there is still an element of tribal warfare in our society! But, mercifully, we have learned to conduct our affairs in a civilised way. This is one of the traditions of Welsh politics, of which we should be proud. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be a worthy custodian of this tradition. There is no greater honour for a Welshman than to be the first Minister in his own country, and I know that he will do his utmost to justify the trust placed in him.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Grist (Cardiff, North)
I should like to thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this early opportunity to open my innings, particularly in this debate which I have often attended in the past, though in a mute capacity. Today I am addressing the House in a somewhat hobbled condition.
As the House will know, I have the honour to represent the constituency of Cardiff, North. Because it is reconstituted it is almost unnecessary to go into the usual paeons of praise for my predecessors because they are present in the Chamber. I refer to my hon. Friends the Members for Barry (Mr. Gower) and for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Michael Roberts). The fact that they are back in the House shows the high regard in which the electorate holds them.
Cardiff, North is a capital constituency—not merely because of its political maturity but because, in a very real sense, it incorporates the heart of the capital of Wales. It incorporates, among other things, two of the constituent colleges of the University of Wales; it contains the finest municipal buildings probably in Europe, including the National Museum of Wales, not forgetting Cardiff Arms Park and the Welsh Office itself. In addition, almost the whole of Cardiff's shopping area is incorporated in my constituency, which was described in a national daily news- 1384 paper during the election as a "shop and live" constituency. I regard it as rather more of a "shop, live and administer" district.
This leads me to my first point of substance. Historically, Wales has lacked a large service sector in her economy. Traditionally, one can say that the size of a service sector is indicative of the modernity and prosperity of a country's economy. However, in Cardiff the position has become seriously reversed, since the service sector is now dangerously dominant—a position which will be further enhanced when the Western Region rail headquarters are opened in Cardiff and also when the Companies Registration Office is established there.
I have stated many times in the past outside the House, I believe, that Cardiff should be granted full development area status. This action would help—I do not claim more than that—to make Cardiff more attractive, especially to school-leavers, whose inclination is to work with their hands or to use mechanical or engineering skills. These young people otherwise may not find work in their home city. It is with this thought in mind that I welcome the Government's proposal to review the British Steel Corporation's closure policy. But I hope very much that expectations will not be raised unnecessarily only to be dashed all the more cruelly later.
I turn now to a proposal contained in the Welsh election manifesto of the Labour Party, namely the proposal to merge the counties of Mid and South Glamorgan. I do not detect any great urgency on the part of the Government to carry out this pledge, and I shall be only too happy to let byegones be byegones if they now repudiate it.
The reason for undoing the new local authority structure was all along founded on false premises. The fact that the Labour Party has won control both of South Glamorgan County Council and of the Cardiff District Council has shown that their fears about the electoral consequences of the new authorities were wholly unfounded. But so long as this pledge to merge the counties remains open, there will be grave uncertainty amongst the local authorities concerned, especially amongst their professional staffs. Already they have had to adjust 1385 to one massive upheaval. They have won new jobs and carved out new careers. All these will he at risk and all the planning for the future will be jeopardised. What is more, I remind the Secretary of State that this will be as true for the staffs of Mid-Glamorgan as it is for those of South Glamorgan.
I want to touch finally on a general problem. We all know, and no doubt everyone has said it at one time or another, that Wales flourishes when Britain flourishes but that, when the British economy catches a cold, we tend to catch pneumonia. Many Government supporters and members of the British public still do not understand the full gravity of our economic situation. The overall success of our policy in Wales, the ending of the miners' strike—whatever the terms on which it was ended—and the coming of spring have seriously misled many people. I am deeply concerned that the statement to be made next Tuesday by the Chancellor of the Exchequer may gravely exacerbate the inflationary spiral in which we find ourselves.
If that should prove to be the case, business confidence will slump and profits will plummet. One of the simple reasons is the transfer of low velocity money into hands where it will be spent as soon as it is received. In these circumstances industry will almost certainly cut back disastrously on its investment proposals. This would be fatal for the economy of Wales and for the hopes that we all have for her future.
This is perhaps not the time or place to go into the economics of the situation, but I hope that the Secretary of State will bear these considerations in mind when he is discussing the Government's strategy with his colleagues. Failure here could mean unemployment in Wales as high as, if not higher than, that which occurred 40 years ago.
I cannot end my speech without wishing the Secretary of State success in his new post. He was extremely kind to me during an earlier election. It must be a source of some wonder to him that, however many Conservative candidates he Meats in Aberavon, sooner or later they pop up on the benches opposite him. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that we shall be criticising him and harrying him for as long as he sits on 1386 the Treasury Bench. But he knows also that we are united in seeking to promote the welfare and happiness of the people of Wales.
Before I sit down I want to make it clear that I intend no insult to the Chair or to the House if I leave in the near future. I intend to come back before the end of the debate if possible. I shall be seeking some more qualified medical advice on the condition of my ankle.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
It is always a great pleasure to be called to speak immediately after a new Member has delivered his maiden speech. On behalf of the House and in its best traditions I extend to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) a welcome to this great arena where the Government can be criticised and where grievances can be ventilated.
The hon. Gentleman said that he was opening his parliamentary innings. Today he was batting on a good and smooth wicket. We cannot always promise him that the playing will not he rougher in future. However, we look forward to hearing him again in this House and in the Welsh Grand Committee.
I join my hon. Friensd in expressing delight that the opening speech on this Welsh day has been delivered by a Secretary of State on behalf of a Labour Government. My right hon. and learned Friend begins his task with the sincere and best wishes of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.
My right hon. and learned Friend gave us a very comprehensive speech touching on a great many matters. I intend to take up only one of them. He emphasised the importance of the steel and coal industries. I remind him that there is a shadow over the coal industry and over many of our pits. I have one shadow of closure over Brynlliw in my own constituency. In the new situation of the coal industry I commend to my right hon. and learned Friend for serious consideration the lifting of that shadow of closure over Brynlliw. Despite the geological problems there, I am confident that the men will achieve the desired result within 12 months if they are given a new opportunity to make the pit pay. I look forward to my right hon. and learned 1387 Friend's co-operation in an effort to retain Brynlliw as a going concern.
We are glad to have with us the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), now sitting on the Opposition Front Bench. I am not sure whether he heard the murmurs on the Government benches when he was speaking. At the beginning of his speech we thought that he was doing rather better than he had done when he was Secretary of State. Unfortunately he got worse as he proceeded with his speech. I was sorry that he marred what began as a good speech by criticism of the mining industry. It became obvious that, if he had still been Secretary of State and if his party had still been in Government, we would still have been in the middle of the miners' strike and probably a three-day working week. We welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's change of seat. I hope that we shall see him sitting over there for a long time to come.
It is part of our tradition on Welsh days that hon. Members choose matters to raise in the debate which they consider to be of special importance to them. I do not intend to change that tradition, because I have my own priorities. However, one issue which has been revealed in this debate already is that it is the economic health of the whole country which is our deepest concern at the moment.
I suggest that our entire national wealth, our standard of living and our ability to pay our way all revolve round one central factor. It is that the productive capacity of each of our citizens is directly related to his personal health and his physical and mental well being. For that reason, I wish to draw attention to a matter which I believe to be of vital importance: the health of the whole community and the problems of medical education and medical manpower, which I shall discuss in the Welsh context.
First, I wish to remind the House about the Royal Commission on Medical Education which was set up in 1965 by the then Home Secretary, a Welsh Member, Sir Frank Soskice. The commission's report has never been discussed in this House. It has been before the other 1388 place, but it has not been discussed here. The commission reported in 1968, after three years of detailed discussion, and later I shall refer to one of its chief recommendations concerning Wales.
One reason for setting up the commission was the serious shortage of doctors confronting this country at that time. Today, six years after the commission reported and made its recommendations, the situation is no better. If anything, it is much worse.
Six years ago the percentage of students obtaining admission to medical schools was 39 per cent. of the total applicants. Today, that figure has dropped to 26 per cent. That is a sad reflection on our state of medical progress. It reveals a grave situation in the medical world that we should have witnessed a drop of one-third in the total intake of medical students in proportion to applicants during those six years. This situation reflects on the position in Wales, which has only one medical school, in Cardiff, compared with five in Scotland and 24 in England, 12 of those being in London.
The intake of medical students to the Cardiff school last year was 120, but the number of applicants for those places can be multiplied 10 times over. Indeed, the total number of applicants for those 120 Cardiff places last year was 1,200.
It is a terrible condemnation of the situation that we are turning away from our medical schools large numbers of would-be British doctors and at the same time finding ourselves dependent on overseas graduates. In Wales 60 per cent. of junior hospital doctors are from overseas.
Some months ago the Daily Telegraph published an article in its magazine entitled,Are there enough doctors in the house?That article gave an analysis of Britain's dependence on overseas doctors to keep the National Health Service ticking over. We are told that overall—these figures have not been challenged—one-third of our hospital doctors come from abroad and that in certain medical specialties and geographical regions Britain's hospitals are almost wholly staffed by overseas doctors.
1389 Geriatrics is the most telling example, with 83 per cent. of registrars and 87 per cent. of senior house officers coming from overseas. Again, 67 per cent. of registrars specialising in diseases of the chest come from abroad. In obstetrics and gynaecology, 67 per cent. of registrars are born overseas. Even in surgery, the most popular and competitive hospital specialty, whole areas of Britain are dependent for care on the flow of overseas doctors wishing to work and study in Britain. I hasten to pay a sincere tribute to those doctors for their magnificant work. I do not wish to be misunderstood in any way. Our hospital services would be facing an extremely grave crisis without them. Indeed, they may even break down completely.
This state of affairs is clear proof that we should do far more to provide medical education for our own students who are desperately anxious to train as doctors. This point is highlighted in a letter in The Times this morning from a headmaster who complains that three out of four boys and two out of three girls applying to medical schools failed to get admission.
Another serious consequence of the shortage of doctors is the closure of many casualty departments. Many of my hon. Friends are aware of the acute problem that this has created.
That leads me to the Royal Commission's recommendation to which I referred. On page 148, Table 5, the commission recommended that for next year. 1975, the annual intake of medical students should reach 4,300. This report was written six years ago and that was the recommendation then made. We are still well below that figure. Indeed, the figure for admissions to medical schools in 1973 was only 3,200. Therefore, if the recommended target of 4,300 is to be reached, there is no time to be lost in making further provision for medical education.
That logically brings me to the recommendation relating to Wales in particular. In paragraph 390, the commission states:The medical school capacity available soon after 1975"—we are nearly there—could, we think, be further increased by the establishment of a new medical school at Swansea, where conditions are very suitable. The University College there has already more 1390 than 3,000 students, most of whom come from outside Wales, and offers substantial relevant academic resources. A big new hospital, which in our view could be adapted without great difficulty for undergraduate clinical teaching, has been built immediately alongside as College and land is available for expansion; this hospital, with other hospitals in the district"—I should like to emphasise that part—could meet the needs of a reasonably large medical school on the assumption that the population drawn upon will be not only that of the immediate area … but for many purposes that of the whole of south-west Wales, which is over 850,000 at present and is likely to expand as industrial and commercial development proceeds.This is a significant and specific recommendation which I hope the House will note, especially the phrasewhere conditions are very suitable.There is widespread support throughout Wales for that recommendation.
It will be within the recollection of many of my hon. Friends that I placed Motion No. 591 on the Order Paper to this effect soon after that report was published. That motion was signed by all Members representing Welsh constituencies.
Support has also been given by the University of Wales, the Welsh Regional Council of Labour, the Welsh Hospital Board, the Hospital Management Committee, the President of the Royal College 01 Physicians, the British Medical Association many local authorities and others. I do not know of any other issue affecting the Principality which has received such widespread and enthusiastic support. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South, the former Secretary of States for Wales, for the way he received deputations on this matter and for the sympathy and support he expressed.
The Royal Commission, in paragraph 386, pronounced also an important educational principle:The modern medical school must he an integral part of a university which can be expected to provide in due course a full range of opportunities for instruction and research in those biological, physical and behavioural sciences which are relevant to medicine. The general scale of the university's development must be big enough to allow a medical school which is established within it to reach the desirable size without causing imbalance and distortion in the pattern of the university's activities.Swansea University College is fully suited to answer those requirements. I 1391 should declare an interest at this juncture. It is my privilege to be the elected chairman of Swansea University Council. I assure the House that the university is fully prepared to give effect to the commission's recommendation. Indeed, it is now even more suited for the purpose than when the recommendation was made.
For example, the university has a chair of biochemistry already established and the department is fully operative. There is also the engineering faculty which provides certain allied subjects to medical students such as biochemical engineering. Further, work is also being done in the electronics field and there is close liaison with local medical consultants in certain aspects of medical application.
I am pleased to add that last November the Department of Health and Social Security sanctioned a £75,000 grant for five years to set up a medical sociology research unit. When this unit is completed which will be soon, Swansea University will have one of the largest centres of research in the sociology of medicine in the United Kingdom. Therefore, the university is well suited for the establishment of a medical school.
I appreciate that the advice of the University Grants Committee is involved in this matter, as it concerns an educational question. I realise too that a new medical school is a costly undertaking, involving close integration with hospital development. The complete project, pre-clinical and clinical, is likely to cost upwards of £7 million, which means that the Government would be directly involved in the making of a decision.
I urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to imprint on his mind the Royal Commission's recommendation together with the facts which I have outlined, and to exercise all his authority within the Cabinet to establish, as a matter of urgency, a much-needed second medical school in Wales, to be located at Swansea University.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Davies), although I know that the subject on which he has spoken is close to his heart. He has been a great advocate of it in 1392 the House and elsewhere. I am sure that what he says deserves the utmost attention from the Secretary of State and that it has great support in the House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) on his maiden speech and wish him all success in the House. I do not know what he meant by his reference to low velocity money. During the sojourn of the previous Government we became accustomed only to high velocity money, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman can explain the matter on another occasion.
At the start of a new Parliament the Secretary of State, being new to office, enjoys probably the easiest ride which he can expect in the House. I was pleased to hear him refer in his speech to his great support for the Welsh language. Knowing his family, I know that this is true. I pay tribute to his predecessors who have shown great concern for the Welsh language. It would be schizophrenic if Welsh Members were concerned only with the physical environment of Wales and had little concern for what has made the Welsh nation tick over the centuries as we secured our independent, social and cultural character.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to his many connections with agriculture—which no one can doubt—but he brought little comfort to people living in the Welsh countryside. He shares some responsibility with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, with whom the prime responsibility for agriculture rests. However, the Secretary of State should immediately use all possible influence with the Cabinet to emphasise the importance of the present crisis in agriculture. Hundreds, if not thousands, of small Welsh farmers virtually face bankruptcy. Livestock and pig breeders are losing money quickly. The dairy industry was in the same position until it received relief through price increases, although these did not cover the industry's costs.
I recently received a touching letter from the daughter of a man who farms a smallholding in my constituency. He has farmed it successfully, but the daughter tells me that he is now losing £4 a day—that was in December. Such a situation can be repeated from many places.
No doubt the Secretary of State realises that unless the Government take action 1393 quickly, many farmers will be affected. They are the backbone of Welsh cultural and social life in the Principality. Action must be taken quickly, and I endorse the remarks made about this by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes).
Across-the-board cuts in capital expenditure imposed by the previous Government did not help agriculture in Wales. The remoter areas of Wales, and some of the decaying industrial areas, suffer proportionately far greater than more prosperous areas because of across-the-board cuts.
I shall give some examples. There are areas in my constituency and in other parts of Wales which are without sewerage schemes. Schemes have been prepared and submitted to the Welsh Office and capital grant approval has been given. I have in mind particularly schemes for the Van and Llawryglyn, near Llanidloes, and at Darowen, near Machynlleth, in my constituency. These were postponed at the stage when tenders had been submitted. People are without proper sewerage services, probably the first necessity of civilised life. Some of the areas which I have in mind had to wait years for water supplies, and it was their misfortune that the previous Government cut back on extensions to water schemes or postponed them for two or three years.
I hope that the Secretary of State will ensure that there is more discrimination in cuts in public expenditure. There has been no discrimination so far. This is needed to give priority to services which are essential towards normal hygienic life, such as sewerage schemes in areas which the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows only too well.
Television reception affects cultural and social life in rural Wales. There has been a lot of pressure in Wales in recent years for a fourth television channel to be allocated to the Welsh language. I make no comment either way on that. The existing television channels have also pressed for further expenditure on sophisticated developments in populous areas, but many parts of Wales have dreadful television reception and some areas cannot receive television at all. In my area only one channel can be received.
Many areas, rural or industrial, have to pay the extra cost of having piped television. This means that television costs 1394 twice as much in those areas as elsewhere. Many people want to join the Open University, but they are unable to receive BBC 2 and therefore they are unable to obtain the benefits of the service provided by that channel.
Let us get the matter into proper perspective. The Secretary of State and I, during the many years we have been together in this House, have always taken the view, for example, that Wales should contribute in full measure to the the United Kingdom economy and that Wales gains many rewards for its complete co-operation. But the truth is that Wales provides large quantities of things like water without charge, and never has charged for them. There should be reciprocity.
Previous Governments have always stated, for example, that it would cost a great deal of money to bring television reception to difficult areas in Wales. Of course it would. Nevertheless we provide many things to England, and we provide them cheaply. We are entitled to expect reciprocity. I understand that the Home Secretary is to be responsible for broadcasting, so I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales can do something to ensure that television reception in Wales receives priority.
It is foolish that a place like Bala, in Merioneth, cannot receive BBC Wales or Harlech Television. Television programmes going out in the Welsh language cannot be received in what has been the Mecca of Welsh religious life in so many ways.
§ Mr. Hooson
Perhaps it is, although I do not think that Athens would appreciate being called the Bala of Greece.
It is trite to say that the Welsh economy is dependent on the United Kingdom economy. It is. Mid-Wales has been going through a relatively prosperous period. But it is astounding how many of its factories are completely tied to the motor and aircraft industries in the Midlands, and if there is a general recession in the British economy, Mid-Wales will suffer greatly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must bear this in mind.
1395 Probably the right course in Mid-Wales would be to extend the remit of the new town development corporation because it has so much expertise. The right hon. Member for Anglesey has already paid tribute to the chairman and the officers of the corporation. Certain towns in Mid-Wales do not need its help. For example, Welshpool is 14 miles further east than the new town and has grown at almost exactly the same rate without special help. But other towns like Brecon, Llandrindod Wells, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Machynlleth and others need very much more help than perhaps Welsh-pool, which has grown naturally, having the geographical advantages of being nearer to the Midlands and having good transport communications. I should like to see the development corporation being able to look at the whole of the area and not being fettered in where it decides to develop. I should like to see it have the right to develop villages as well as towns.
In my constituency there is the Laura Ashley factory. It was begun when I first became a Member of this House 12 years ago. It began in a little railway building but is now an international firm of great repute employing about 750 people. It is a highly liberal firm. The transformation of the Welsh village there is worth seeing. Nearly all the personnel involved were working on farms 12 years ago, and now they have responsible positions. One can see in that factory what can be done by private enterprise. Such projects could be encouraged in the villages as well as in the towns.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
Perhaps I may clarify one small point. The development corporation has power. What it lacks is the resources.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. His knowledge of the powers of the corporation is far greater than mine. I am sure that the Secretary of State has the point very much in mind. This is an area of the country that he knows very well.
The Secretary of State referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells). I regret my hon. Friend's absence, but he is Vice-Chairman of the British Wool Marketing Board, which 1396 before the election had arranged a meeting in Mid-Wales today. That accounts for his absence. The Secretary of State recalled that my hon. Friend had suggested that there should be a Minister of State for Agriculture at the Welsh Office. The people of Cardiganshire will take comfort not so much from the fact that the Secretary of State, in his eminent position, has part of the responsibility for agriculture as from the fact that there is a "Cardi" in the Cabinet. That is what will give them encouragement.
There are many other subjects on which I should have liked to touch, but many other hon. Members will be speaking. I wish the Secretary of State and the two Under-Secretaries of State great success, although no doubt I shall be critical of them. Their success means success for Wales as a whole, and of that we shall all be extremely glad.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)
I join in the general congratulatory atmosphere in the House and wish my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and his team the best of luck. I can assure him that our support will be strongly behind him in most of what he said today. However, I found one part of his speech rather difficult to follow.
The Labour Party's history in the question of devolution for Wales has always been logical and dignified and an example in good thinking to many other people in Wales. It is regrettable that in many parts of Wales little or no interest has been taken in the Kilbrandon Report.
I wonder how many of my hon. Friends representing industrial South Wales were asked about the Kilbrandon Report during the General Election campaign. I regret the lack of interest in many parts of Wales because the subject is of such vital importance to our country. I think that there are some people in my constituency who, if one mentioned Kilbrandon, would think that it represented some kind of animus against the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir Brandon Rhys Williams).
The Secretary of State was good enough to mention in a very inglorious circumstance the position of the area of Bargoed. It has the unenviable distinction of being the travel-to-work area with one of the highest unemployment rates 1397 and probably the highest male unemployment rate in Britain.
My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned also the necessity to maintain our communities in the valleys, to refurbish their economy and make them once again very good and dignified places in which to live. The people of the valleys have always thought on these lines. They also happen to believe that a capital city like Cardiff cannot reach its true status unless it has the kind of hinterland that the valleys can provide with a properly-balanced economy and with the refurbishing of which they are sadly in need.
I was glad to see my right hon. and learned Friend's emphasis here, because when the Members from the South Wales Valleys drew up their evidence for presentation to the public inquiry into the new town at Llantrisant, this theme was one of the keys to that evidence. It was my honour to present it to the inquiry, together with my right hon. and learned Friend, whom I congratulate on his new appointment.
The core of our evidence was that in the Welsh valleys the urban authorities have had long experience in developing good amenities with very scarce resources in times of hardship and of heavily-afflicted economies. We pointed out that the know-how was there in the valleys. We asked that the Secretary of State should see that his voice was raised in the Cabinet, demanding that part of the colossal sum that would have been necessary to develop the new town at Llantrisant—£300 million was mentioned at one time—was channelled into the valleys to carry out the kind of resurrection of the valleys of which I am speaking.
In the new county of Mid-Glamorgan. for example, we have inherited many of the worst problems and we are receiving very little of anything that is going. We have one of the largest populations in Wales and the lowest but one rateable value to provide all the services needed for that huge population. We have the largest areas of derelict land and some of the poorest road systems. A vast amount of money needs to be pumped in. I hope that our new Secretary of State will take the chance to show his mettle.
When we come down to particularising, I raise my voice with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. 1398 Davies). I think that my constituency has more pits open in it than has any other constituency in Wales, but a threat hangs over them. In the new situation of world energy crisis, the industry must be maintained. It is a lifeline industry for that part of South Wales. But while we maintain and develop it, we must diversify our industries. We must attract and keep on attracting industries of all types, so that while our sheet anchors continue to be coal and steel we have ample opportunities for people to work in other industries if they wish.
As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, the future of mining is now much brighter in the Welsh valleys. As he pleaded for Brynlliw, so I plead for the Ogilvie colliery, where there is a serious argument between the miners and the planners and technicians of the National Coal Board about just how much coal is there, how much of it can be got at and at what price. The review procedures are still going on. I have asked the Chairman of the NCB to meet me and other hon. Members concerned with the labour force before a final decision is reached. I hope that my hon. Friend will try to assist in whatever way he can.
If we are to have a diversified industry, I recommend my right hon. and learned Friend to reconsider suggestions made to his office some time ago. One was for a massive industrial development along the Heads of the Valleys road, with the valleys coming up to the plateau where a huge population could be catered for all the way from Neath up past Merthyr Tydvil and pretty well into the beginning of Mid-Wales. I drew up some feasibility studies, but we were told that the technical difficulties were great. All kinds of reasons why that should not be done were advanced.
But this has been a week of weeks. We began with one lonely person going down the road to Damascus, and now everybody is going down it. The previous Secretary of State, when he published his memorandum after rejecting the new town of Llantrisant, was by implication very churlish towards the inspector who conducted the inquiry, but he added—with an air of amazement—that industrialists were beginning to find that the Heads of the Valleys were desirable locations for industry and that they were beginning to show a great deal of interest.
1399 My party's policies include a recommendation for sponsored Government factories, where we could manufacture products needed in various Departments. Anyone could name a dozen such items used in the National Health Service, in schools and elsewhere.
Once development begins and services are provided, it is surprising how quickly other industries come in. Massive development of the kind I envisage at the Heads of the Valleys would cure many of the problems of the Monmouthshire and Glamorgan valleys. It would provide a travel-to-work access as a result of which the bulk of the population would not have to travel for more than about 20 minutes to and from work. In this day and age it is an intolerable burden to place on a working man that he must travel for an hour or more to and from his work. That eats into his leisure time and destroys much of his family life. If we are to be rational, we must say now that industry is to be brought to people and people are not to be dragged away to industry, wherever it is located.
I shall not go into some of the other matters mentioned by my right hon. and learned Friend, because many other hon. Members wish to speak. I again congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his appointment. I liked his personal testimony at the end of his speech and his pledging of himself to Wales. One of the most offensive things I find is that some people in Wales look upon others as non-Welsh. That is something we shall dispute to the nth degree. We are thoroughly Welsh, and we shall not have our birthright taken from us. Therefore, I join my right hon. and learned Friend in that kind of testament, although our backgrounds are very different. The will shown in his peroration is the sort of thing that will bring Wales to success.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)
I add my congratulations to the new Secretary of State for Wales. He has had expressions of good will from all parts of the House today. I am sure that he will accept them as a measure of our good will towards him and his office. We wish him every success in his duties.
The only time I felt inclined to disagree with the right hon. and learned 1400 Gentleman was when he dealt with employment matters, about which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) commented. In my view, one of the surprising things at the time of the recent troubles was the remarkable resilience of the Welsh economy in all the circumstances, a fact from which we can all take some encouragement. What might have been a very dangerous situation proved to be otherwise. I hope that the Secretary of State has not overlooked that aspect of the situation which we have seen in recent months. The Welsh economy stood up remarkably well to the stresses and strains caused by the crisis in the coal industry and the international oil problems. That is a good omen for our industrial future in Wales.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist), who made his maiden speech charmingly and well. I feel sure that he will be a good representative of his constituency.
I was impressed by yesterday's debate on the Kilbrandon Commission on the Constitution. I shall not develop in any great degree now the arguments that were made then. I should like to comment, however, that the debate revealed that there are considerable differences of outlook, even among members of the same party. Some differences were not pronounced, but others were considerable. There are, too, different personal attitudes to these important problems.
We must not forget, for example, those who favour extensive devolution at an early date. Different outlooks on the problems exist in different parts of the Principality as well. I hope it is recognised that the attitudes to these matters are not the same in, say, Caernarvon or Merioneth as they are in Monmouth or Flint. That is one of our difficulties.
Whatever we decide in the future, one of the most important factors to be borne in mind is that when we are arranging constitutional changes of magnitude it is essential that we should carry with us the majority of the people of Wales. We could go ahead of the majority opinion in Wales, which might have unfortunate consequences in some parts of the Principality. I shall not dwell on that question because, as other hon. Members have 1401 said, I believe the report to be of such size and importance that it demands careful and mature consideration. I agree with hon. Members who commented that the Government are entitled to adequate time to consider what proposals they wish to bring forward.
I do not want to see the United Kingdom unduly fragmented. I consider that it would be an advantage for Britain, whatever devolution we have within the United Kingdom, to have a fairly united voice in the councils of Europe and of the world. I do not favour reduction of Welsh representation at Westminster, and I want the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State's office maintained. I submit to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there is a case for further extension of the functions of the Welsh Office.
I shall not make many suggestions about the actual subjects which could be added. We have already gone some way towards achieving that extension. When the Conservative Government were in office we extended the functions to cover education at primary and secondary level. I should have thought that there was a case for increasing the Secretary of State's own functions in the sphere of agriculture—not exclusive control, but perhaps to give the right hon. Gentleman a greater share of the responsibility. Again, I suggest that railways might be covered by the Welsh Office.
I admit that the Welsh railway system leads into the system in England, but with the importance of branch lines—we have had an assurance that these will not be closed—I consider that the internal railway system of Wales should be included in the functions of the Welsh Office. I hope that the Secretary of State and his Government colleagues will look at this suggestion sympathetically. It is an important matter. The Welsh Office deals with roads. It has responsibility for the creation of new motorways in Wales. Railways are another important form of transport, and I believe that the Welsh Office should have responsibility for them internally in Wales as well. That is a matter for the Government's consideration.
I want to comment on another aspect, that of roads. I agree with what the Secretary of State said about the M4. It 1402 is an urgent matter. So too is the question of communications between Cardiff and Merthyr and along the North Wales coast. I accept that. I should like to see greater attention paid to the roads that serve the South Wales ports. The Secretary of State should see the heavy vehicles that now have to go to Barry Docks, for example, through narrow roads in places like Dinas Powis—well known to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and then have to struggle through the residential streets of Barry. Many of those vehicles are far too wide and big for the streets through which they are driven. The Minister would then recognise the need for better road communications with the docks. I believe that this situation is found in parts of Cardiff as well. This matter has not been raised often. I think that it applies less in the case of Swansea, where there are double-track roads running into the city, but it applies in Cardiff and in the port of Barry. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will study the question sympathetically and give encouragement to the new local authorities to tackle the problem.
There is also the question of the tourist roads in Wales. I appreciate that industrial needs are paramount, but tourism is in its way one of the most important of our industries and perhaps we sometimes overlook the need for improving the access roads to the tourist centres.
I wish to make one comment on the question of air services in Wales. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, this is the part of our economy in Wales where we have had less help than in any other part of the United Kingdom. The airport in my constituency at Rhoose, the Glamorgan airport, needs 'financial help for the authorities which are now contemplating assuming responsibility for it. It may be a combination of two or three authorities or more, and these really must have greater help from the central Government. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that approaches have been made. He knows that meetings have been held and delegations received. I regard this as a matter of the utmost importance.
As for civil aviation in the rest of Wales, it is conspicuous more by its absence than by its presence. Scotland 1403 and most of England have had great amounts of money spent on civil aviation, on airports and so on. It is just about time that Wales had some, even though it be on a more moderate scale. I shall not develop further arguments in the limited time that is available. I would like to say something more about employment, but I support what my hon. Friend for Cardiff, North said about the need to have the county of South Glamorgan included in the Welsh development area. It has been handicapped by its proximity to the areas which are classified in the development area, and the loss of industry has been considerable. I think that the time has now come to include the South Glamorgan area, including Cardiff, right down to Llantwit Major and indeed, I believe, Newport too. All these areas should be included.
Finally, I want to say something about the hospital services in my constituency, and I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to consider a point I want to make about them. I welcome the recommendation which has now come from the Welsh Hospital Board that there shall be accident units at Barry, at Caerphilly and at Rhondda. It is only a pity that the board did not recognise this a long time ago when the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans), myself and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) tried hard to present this case to successive members of the Welsh Hospital Board. I am glad it has been accepted now. We need these accident units; we desperately need one in Barry, with our industrial needs as well, and this will be a great improvement.
I want to see an early decision by the Government, by the Welsh Office, to implement the plan to create, as a second district general hospital in the Cardiff area, the two hospitals at Llandough and Sully and incorporating the accident unit at the Barry Community Hospital as well. These three hospitals should be included in one administrative unit, and this could be a very effective second district general hospital.
I fear that there have been some errors in hospital administration in the areas of Cardiff and South-East Glamorgan. There has been, I am sad to say, an 1404 over-concentration on the glories of the fine, splendid hospital, the University Hospital at the Heath, Cardiff, and there has been an under-concentration on some of the really serious needs of the other hospitals. There has been over-spending on the University Hospital at the Heath, with the consequence that there has not been enough money to devote to the real needs of the other hospitals.
There have also been administrative errors. I will cite one to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. A large sum of money was spent recently on important alterations at the Glossop Maternity Hospital in Cardiff, and to my knowledge the facilities then created have not been used. This is the sort of error that has been made, and I do not want that sort of error repeated in the case of the hospitals at Sully and Llandough. Now is the time to go ahead with the plans which are generally approved by people throughout a very wide area for the creation of this new unit. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State, now that the Welsh Office is, I believe, assuming the main responsibility for hospital service throughout Wales, will see that these matters are not deferred any longer.
I conclude, as other hon. Members have done, by wishing the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues success in their undertaking. I think that, contrary to what he said, in most respects they have good prospects in many fields of their work, but they have problems too and we wish them well in trying to solve them.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Padley (Ogmore)
I begin, in common with the rest of the House, by congratulating on their appointments my right hon. and learned Friend and the team that accompanies him. I do so the more heartily because I share with him the great basin of coal and steel in that part of Mid-Glamorgan which the Aberavon and Ogmore constituencies constitute together with Neath.
I should also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) on his maiden speech. I wish him well at the doctor's, for he happens to be a constituent of mine, though he promises to remove two votes from my constituency before the next election!
1405 I was glad that the new Secretary of State began by referring to the dispute in the mining industry, because, despite the tenor of today's debate, let us not forget that the foundation of the Welsh economy, as of the British economy, is still coal, and upon coal also the steel industry. I was surprised by the way in which the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), the former Secretary of State, arrogated to himself the right to speak for the Welsh miners and the British miners, saying that they could have had a better deal had they pursued different industrial and political tactics. The fact is that without the use of industrial power by the National Union of Mineworkers, followed by the political victory of the Labour Party, there would not have been an immediate end to the coal dispute and a virtual end to the three-day week.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State knows, the problem of my constituency throughout the years was not pit closures but a shortage of manpower. The six pits in my constituency produce the coal that feeds the blast furnaces at the great Abbey steel works in my right hon. and learned Friend's constituency. Those steel works are due to be doubled in size, and the recent news of an influx of manpower into the mining industry is vital not only to the mining industry but to the steel industry.
In some of the pits in my constituency more than half the total manpower comes from outside the valley in which the pits are located. It is a sad reflection on the state of the manpower situation that has been allowed to develop over the years that the existence of the mining industry in South Wales, the Ogmore, Llynfi and Garw valleys and the great Abbey steel works producing three million tons of steel a year and due to he doubled in size to six million tons in the not-too-distant future depends on labour put out of a job in the terrible pit closures of earlier years.
If one goes back over the records one finds that it was only at periods when unemployment generally increased that there was a decline in the number of vacancies for the pits in my part of Mid-Glamorgan. The wage increase, which some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen 1406 opposite denounce as inflationary, was absolutely necessary not only to safeguard the future of more than half of Britain's primary source of energy but to preserve the basis for the maintenance and expansion of the steel industry. With the steel industry I include the rest of the industrial complex of Mid-Glamorgan, Wales and Britain. As my right hon. and learned Friend assumes office as Secretary of State for Wales, let us never forget that for many years to come the future of our constituencies, and of the South Wales and British economies, will depend on the attraction of manpower to the mining industry and a thriving coal industry, because without it we cannot have a thriving steel industry and a thriving economy.
The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) referred to hospitals and the health service. Here I enter a constituency plea: before the election I chased the former Secretary of State about the finality of the purchase of land to build the general hospital in Bridgend, which is scheduled for 1977. When I ask a question on the subject in the not-too-distant future, I hope that there will be the affirmative reply that the land deal has been finalised, that the hospital, for which we have been waiting for so long, is to go ahead and will be started at least by 1977.
I turn to the controversial issue of the Kilbrandon Report. There may be a variety of views about devolution in Wales. What I find offensive is the way in which the word "Kilbrandon" has been bandied about—particularly by two political parties in the Principality—without making it clear whether they refer to Lord Kilbrandon as a person or to the five reports that could be called "Kilbrandon Reports", and within those five reports probably seven sets of proposals.
Before we start to argue about substance, we should all agree that the one thing that the Kilbrandon Commission did unanimously was to reject separatism as advocated by the nationalists, and federalism as advocated by the Liberal Party. Those are the two issues on which the 13 members of the Kilbrandon Commission were united. If there were any need to demonstrate the folly and futility of separatism it is shown by the history of the mining industry. 1407 The recent miners' dispute demonstrated the necessity for the unity of the Yorkshire, Welsh, Durham and Scottish miners. It was no accident that the former president of the South Wales miners—a constituent of mine—reminded his audiences that South Wales miners were among the leaders of those who wanted to end Welsh wages, Scottish wages and Yorkshire wages, to end what were called district ascertainments, and move towards a National Union of Mineworkers on an all-British scale.
But it was not only separatism that was rejected as being disastrous for Wales and Scotland and disadvantageous for England; it was also federalism, on the practical ground that it is extraordinarily difficult to federate about 2½ million people in Wales, 5 million in Scotland, 1 million in Northern Ireland and about 45 million in England.
Whatever the Kilbrandon Commission did or did not do, it unanimously sank without trace the specious pleas of separatism and federalism. Then it divided into a majority of 11 and a minority of two. The majority of 11 then divided, not as a leading article in yesterday's edition of The Guardian said, into a majority of eight and a minority of three in favour of legislative assemblies for Wales and Scotland, but into a majority of eight favouring an assembly for Scot-and and a majority of six for Wales. It may be that six is a majority of 11, but it is also a minority of 13.
I will not pursue this too far. My point is that the demands of the two parties that I mentioned are largely nonsense. The fact is that the consensus of Kilbrandon is naturally more aligned to the historic party of the Welsh people, not self-appointed, but chosen by them for half a century. The evidence which the Labour Party submitted to Kilbrandon was typically British Labour Party evidence. The Welsh evidence was the democratic decision of the Welsh Labour movement, decided by the movement's annual conference.
The viewpoint of the Scottish Labour movement at that time differed in some particulars from the Welsh movement, but the Scottish movement, through its annual conference, decided on its evidence. This was accompanied by 1408 evidence from Transport House, pooling the wisdom of the regions of England. Thus the Labour Party, in matters that were either purely Scottish or purely Welsh, adopted the line of complete autonomy. An elected council or assembly with wide executive and administrative powers was the evidence in Wales, and by that we should stand.
There are arguments sometimes in Wales and in Scotland about legislative or fiscal powers, fiscal powers being mentioned more often for Scotland. Local authorities have legislative powers in so far as they can adopt byelaws. They also have fiscal powers in so far as they can levy rates. We should concentrate on the Kilbrandon consensus, which was in line with the democratic evidence of the Labour movement—an elected council or assembly with wide powers.
Having done that, we can turn to the practical proposals to implement a greater degree of devolution. That will require an enhancement, not a reduction, of the powers of the Secretary of, State and of the Welsh Office. Let us not make the mistake of either opting for the single transferable vote in Wales, which might produce in Scotland the present unstable conditions of the House of Commons, although probably not in Wales. I would not wish it upon Scotland.
Furthermore we must not fall for the bait of reducing Welsh or Scottish representation here at Westminster, because if we follow the combined wisdom of Kilbrandon, the great decisions regarding industry economy, health, welfare and the social services will continue to be taken in this House. The voice of Wales should be louder in this great legislative assembly.
On that note I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend and his team to their new office. I am confident that they will be worthy of the great movement which they represent.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I welcome you to the Welsh Day debate, albeit in a nonpolitical capacity? I am sure that hon. Members opposite will make up for the contribution you would have made had you remained on those benches.
1409 I shall not take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Padley) tempting though that is because of his references to Kilbrandon. We had a reasonable chance last night to debate that and it was given a fair airing.
I am not going to follow the hon Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) either, except to refer to his comments on railways. I would certainly welcome the Welsh Office having responsibility for railways, and I thing that the hon. Gentleman is right in underlining the importance of air services to Wales and the need for improved roads to tourist centres.
I take the opportunity of congratulating the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his appointment as Secretary of State for Wales and wish him every success in his period of office. I congratulate also the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) on their appointments as Under-Secretary. Perhaps we may look forward to an appointment of Minister of State rank in the Welsh Office before too long.
I should like to thank the previous Secretary of State for Wales for the work he did and also the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) in what was a very arduous task. I should also like to thank the previous Secretary of State for the welcome he gave to the new Members in this Chamber.
We had an opportunity earlier this week to discuss the broad problems of Wales and the steps required to overcome them. I want to concentrate today more on the problems of my constituency, and I trust that the Secretary of State will give as much attention to the problems I raise for my constituency as he did to the earlier remarks I made this week.
I turn, first to the comment made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman in opening the discussion. I welcome his statement concerning Government intervention regarding jobs for people. It is good news that nobody will have to suffer from the lack of job availability. This is good news, and I look forward to its implementation through-the Principality.
I note the comment that was made on Offa's Dyke and the economics of Wales and England. The economy of these 1410 islands has great dependence one on the other, in the same way as the economy of Britain has great dependence on the economy of Europe and on the Atlantic economy. In the same way as perhaps Offa's Dyke has no relevance to the economy of Wales and England, neither does St. George's Channel have relevance to the economic life of Britain any more than does the Atlantic Ocean. This is an important fact at a time when large companies from all over the world are working in several countries and on several continents.
I listened with interest to the comments concerning oil and gas, and I look forward at the earliest possible opportunity to a further statement in this direction. Similarly I look forward to further details of the development authority for rural Wales when there is an opportunity for them to be made available.
We on this side of the House welcome the news about Rhayader and Blaenau Ffestiniog. I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) will refer to that if he gets the opportunity.
Reference has been made to the roads in Gwynedd and the need to bring Gwynedd closer in travelling time to the border. There is a great need for improvement in the roads along the North Wales coast, but we also hope that Cardiff will be brought closer to Gwynedd. There are two roads whose improvement would help this. One is the speeding up of the phase of the road between Cardiff and Merthyr between Abercanaid and Cefn Coed, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil will pay special attention to that. Secondly, if there could be improvements on the road between Dinas Mawddwy and Llangurig, this would help greatly in the communications between North and South Wales.
The Secretary of State made correct reference to the scandalous housing situation. This is something that many people in Wales are suffering from. I hope that the new Government will set a target of approximately 25,000 new houses per annum in Wales in order to overcome the problems that we have now. This needs a considerable effort, but I am sure the Government will make that effort and we look forward to seeing it bear fruit.
I also welcome the statement made concerning the elimination of grants for 1411 second homes. This will be very good news in my own and many other constituencies which suffer this problem. I also welcome the fact that local authorities are to be urged to purchase derelict houses. I would hope that in due course the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have an opportunity to reconsider the 1967 Welsh Language Act in order to bring in the possibility of bilingualism as an alternative to equal validity within that.
I make reference to the Kilbrandon time scale, on which I tried to intervene earlier. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merioneth said last night, we are seeking a commitment on time scale in producing a White Paper. The Secretary of State for Employment has managed to do that for other legislation, saying that it will come out on 1st May. Last night it was suggested that a White Paper on this topic by 30th June would not be unreasonable, and hon. Members indicated their assent. If the Secretary of State were to give such an undertaking, we would be willing to withdraw our suggestion that the Government might be playing for time.
I turn now to matters concerning my constituency, one of the most important of which is employment. We have in Gwynedd an unemployment rate of between 6 per cent. and 8 per cent. We have problems in net migration, with perhaps an influx of retired people and an exodus of young people. We have low activity rates. This is shielded to some extent by the fact that school leavers may stay on longer than they want to, that earlier retirements are caused with no replacement work and that females, particularly married women who have reared a family, want to go back to work but do not have the opportunity to do so.
We also have the problem of underemployment. This is particularly relevant to the tourist industry which has a fairly short season in my part of Wales. As a result, resources are fully exploited for three or four months and are not fully used during the remainder of the year. There is a considerable range of under-utilised similar resources, and we look for an improvement there. We have had a rundown of slate and agriculture in my constituency as a result of all 1412 these factors—unemployment, migration, activity rates and loss of jobs from the old industries.
We need in Gwynedd over the next five years approximately 5,000 new jobs. To obtain these we shall need a positive plan. We particularly need economic planning to achieve that. In this connection I should like to refer to the Trawsfynydd atomic power station. At the heyday of the construction of that power station there were approximately 4.500 people working there. This was a tremendous labour pool. It was allowed to fritter away, however, because there were no new schemes to take up the workers as they left the construction site.
I should like to underline that fact in the context of the Llanberis scheme. A parliamentary answer which was given suggested that the Llanberis scheme would be operational by 1981. In that event, between now and 1981 1,000 or 1,200 people will be leaving that construction site. It is very important that, as they leave, manufacturing industry should where possible take up a large part of that labour force.
I should also like to underline the importance of maximising the local participation in the construction of Llanberis. I believe that there is agreement that hon. Members opposite, when in government, wanted priority on this scheme to be given to local people. They wanted local labour exchanges to be approached, school leavers to be sought and advertisements to be placed in the local Press to attract local participation.
In the longer term, I should like to underline that when in 1981 the scheme comes to fruition—it will be employing perhaps 50 people at that stage—we should ensure that local people have been trained in the period between up to 1981 so that they can take up those jobs to the maximum possible extent.
In the Caernarvon constituency we need positive plans to solve the employment situation. One thing we should like to see is a new advance factory programme. We should certainly like to see advance factories in Caernarvon, Pwllheli, Porthmadog, Llanberis and Penygroes, as there is a demand in those areas. Industry could be set up and attracted there.
1413 I should also like to see a little more imagination in the advance factory programme, and nursery factories brought into those areas, allowing units of 1,000 or 2,000 sq. ft. employing perhaps only half a dozen workers at the start. From these small acorns, I believe that large factories can grow. This has been successful in other areas—Canvey Island, for example—and it can be successful in solving our problems in Gwynedd as well. I hope that the local authority will take an initiative in this matter.
I think that the new Gwynedd council is very likely to do so in setting up an economic development department. I am sure that it will be seeking co-operation with the Welsh Office in the matter, appointing a full-time officer to take a positive rôle in attracting industry and encouraging the setting up of industry from local sources. I hope that the new local authority, together with the Welsh Development Corporation, through the DTI and in association with the Welsh Office, will liaise closely with the university at Bangor, where there is an excellent department of electronics and where there should be ideas that can be developed into employment possibilities.
There is considerable scope for the education programme of the local authority to give much more emphasis on the right technical and business education to help develop answers to our job needs. In this context the careers advice given in our Gwynedd schools is very important, and we look to Gwynedd council to give a lead.
So far as the physical aspects of attracting new industries are concerned, we hope that there will be an industrial park development in the Glan Menai area, with four or five satellite trading estates off it. That could provide the necessary facilities for industry to set up facilities in terms of infrastructure for industrial development. We hope also that in due course the Government will see the way clear to setting up a Welsh national development authority that will co-ordinate the work of industrial parks, not only in Gwynedd but in other parts of Wales.
Grants for industry have been mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is important that the present grant structure should be clari- 1414 fied as quickly as possible. There is nothing worse for industry than uncertainty in that direction. I hope that a commitment can be given that at least the present level of grants will be maintained for a period of five years.
I welcome the intention to retain the regional employment premium, and I hope it can be sustained on a permanent basis. I hope also that the situation on grants emanating from the European regional fund can be clarified so that industrialists in Wales know what grants are available and how to take advantage of them.
The improvement of the environment is an important consideration in the Caernarvon constituency. Considerable work is being done on the industrial valleys of South Wales in clearing the spoil of the last industrial revolution. I urge the Secretary of State for Wales to give the same attention to the spoil that we have in Gwynedd. There is the spoil from the slate industry, a substance more inert than coal, and a considerable amount of clearance work is necessary in the Llanberis and Nantlle area.
Likewise, attention should be given to roads in the area. There obviously have to he priorities, but within the Caernarvon constituency I urge that attention be given to the Caernarvon-Bangor road, which is heavily used and very congested in the summer. In the village of Port Dinorwic there is a serious safety problem. I am sure that the Government will give consideration to pressing the matter.
In the Caernarvon constituency there is a severe housing problem. The figures for Wales have been referred to. There has been a decline in the number of houses started in the public sector, from 7,028 in 1969 to 2,992 in 1973. I hope that this trend can be reversed. In Caernarvonshire the figures show a corresponding decline, from 212 in 1970 to 40 in 1972. The situation is serious and is made worse by the pressure of second houses. I hope that the programme to which the Government have referred this afternoon will help in this direction. When a house was offered by a housing association to rent recently in my constituency, 80 young married couples applied. There is great pressure on housing in Caernarvon, and we shall 1415 welcome any steps to alleviate the situation.
I wish the Government every success. They have set themselves targets and they have made good intentions. I hope that those intentions do not lead to treading the road to hell, and that we shall be able to applaud the Government's achievements in one, two or three years, whenever the next General Election comes.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
When I heard the former Secretary of State giving his account of the splendid legacy with which he has endowed the present Secretary of State for Wales, I realised that he had taken as his vantage point his activities during the election campaign in Hendon.
I do not imagine that anybody who participated in the election in Wales would take anything but a different view. Indeed, I found that there was only one beneficial side effect to the disastrous confrontation politics of the last Government. It meant that we regained the opportunity during that election to meet our constituents—not in public meetings, lodges or at the factory gates, but on their doorsteps and in their homes.
For my generation, remembering as I do our first candidatures—in my case when I was 21—it was just like old times in South Wales. Everybody was at home. Nobody was working. We had had nothing like it since the vicious days of the 1930s, when the unemployed used to receive us in those nostalgic days. Politicians were received at the door with real enthusiasm, welcoming a call from a candidate as a diversion from what otherwise would be dreary and purposeless days.
At this election, of course, the miners were on strike. The steelworkers in my area had been locked out by a management so self-deluding that they evidently believed that the Spencer works belonged to them personally and not to the nation. With a flourish of histrionics, the Tory Government, not foreseeing that their planned melodrama was to be mocked off the stage, had unnecessarily insisted that there should be a three-day week.
The nation, therefore, was going down the sink and everybody was at home, 1416 becoming increasingly hard up, gardening and watching television. It was a sorry spectacle. Is it surprising that our electorates, when all of us were to meet them to an extent denied to us for such a long time, were lacking serenity? I do not wish to be misunderstood in recalling, as I have, the calls made on the unemployed in the 1930s. That was, of course, a very different world.
Modern nationalised mines with all their many hazards and discomforts, are very different from the rat holes of yesterday's privately owned pits. The men at the National Coal Board are certainly not the pitiless pit owners who once exploited our people. There is no comparison between the conditions of yester years, with grim forges, and the almost surgical-like steelworks of today. Nor is there any comparison between the wages received by the fathers of our young steelworkers and those that happily their sons now receive.
There is no comparison between the bare houses of our people in other times and the little palaces which are dwelt in by those who live, as so many of my electorate do, in a new town which, despite its blemishes, is a signal tribute to the merits of public enterprise. Those who remember the past, and the poverty, neglect and sickness with which it is associated, will agree that that has now been mitigated by the National Health Service and the National Insurance schemes, which were established in the teeth of the Opposition, who resented such public intervention.
Everyone has been speaking about material gains, due largely to the application of basic Socialist concepts that have brought such huge capital investment, largely through nationalisation, into Wales. The same concepts have brought the Welfare State. Despite all this, who can dispute that our Welsh society today lacks serenity? Who can dispute that our society lacks the cohesion that we had in times of adversity?
I hope that this is not a middle-aged man's lament. It is, rather, a recognition that somehow the sense of community, the culture of the small pits, the small forge, the enclosed valley, the small township, is threatened by huge, large-scale industries, mostly nationalised industries. This sense of community is 1417 threatened, too, by a spawning bureaucracy that is a consequence of more and more interventionist policies which, largely out of compassion or a desire for greater amenity, have come into existence.
Indeed, they are symbolised by our capital city which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your lifetime and I in mine have seen as a port but which is now a huge administrative city. The strength of Wales and its past has been its sense of belonging, its sense of community. So certain have we been in the value of intimacy, of mutual aid and kinship that through our Jimmy Griffiths and Nye Bevans we have instructed the whole United Kingdom and caused it, through our Welfare State, to be institutionalised.
We have institutionalised what are essential parts of our way of life. Scale has come and with it anonymity, alienation. Precisely because we have been so dependent upon community we tolerate the resultant anomie far less well than any other group in Britain and yet, perforce, because we have secured more public investment, largely through the nationalised industries, than any other area, the threat to the values which found their most natural expression in the tacit syndicalism of the Welsh Labour movement is even greater than in most areas. The result is that we feel that we are threatened more than most.
I sometimes think that Wales defines a democrat as someone who believes passionately in Government by elected committees. That is what Kilbrandon was about. We are finding that Wales is increasingly receiving government by anonymity. It is not surprising that there is unease and that, therefore, there are some who foolishly yield to the Welsh nationalist slogan of "Stop the world I want to get off" or that some can be attracted by the drop-out philosophy of Plaid, or that there are others who, out of peevishness or disenchantment yield to the shabby optimism of the Liberal Party.
I felt it symbolic that the first call I made on the Secretary of State for Wales following his appointment was to hand to him a petition signed by thousands of my constituents protesting at the interminable delay in the construction of a desperately needed by-pass at New Inn. Without it my valley is being strangled, and without it those going to work in the industries in the south find, when work is 1418 done, that there are intolerable delays before they can get home. Those living in Cwmbran and working in the nylon factory or any other factory in the north find their commuting as difficult as any experienced by those who have the misery to work in London. Meantime, the villagers of New Inn suffer the dangers, noise and serious inconvenience as their narrow main road becomes daily choked with traffic.
I will not burden the House with the history of the delays over the construction of this by-pass. I attended upon the Secretary of State and burdened him. I am grateful to him for his patience and for the concern that he showed. I am confident that it will mean that the Under-Secretary, in reply to the debate, will give without equivocation the anticipated programme so that the people of my valley may understand that the incoming Government fully appreciate the urgency of the matter and intend to deal with it in a different and far less dilatory method than the outgoing Government.
The relevance of my drawing attention to this road delay is that it is a delay that has arisen and grown as a result of the sloth of officialdom. It illustrates only too well the feelings of alienation to which a community can succumb when men whom they believe belong to the nation become men without identity or when organisations which people had believed belonged to the nation become unascertainable and unaccountable.
In this case the faceless men, as they are seen by my constituents, in the Roads Division of the Welsh Office, and the anonymous bureaucrats in British Railways have together managed to thwart all the considerable efforts of elected representatives to give firm information to their constituents about this road. Promises received become hedged, if not broken. A Kafka-like situation develops when every date becomes postponed as soon as it is almost reached. It is not only British Railways among nationalised industries which can show, in this case in the form of tardiness, an arrogance towards the nation.
Recent events with the British Steel Corporation at Llanwern prompt us to remind the executive that those of us who fought to place the industry under public control—and such people are not usually 1419 included among those now in control of the management of the works—did not do so so that private capitalism could be replaced by State capitalism. It is a measure of the degeneration of the early concepts of the Labour movement that we could find such a situation inside Wales, a situation when an arrogant management could, during the election campaign, write a letter to thousands of my constituents, to thousands of the constituents of the hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) and constituents elsewhere—a letter which was a mixture of crass intimidation and exhortation, a document which was bound to be inflammatory and which clearly found its cue in the equally obdurate attitude of the then Prime Minister.
When we hear that there is to be a review of the programme of the nationalised steel industry's activities in Wales, and when the Secretary of State gives a clear indication that he will be rigidly observing the investment programmes, we hope, too, that he will be bearing in mind that there is increasingly a need, determined not simply on economic grounds but by the psychological wants of the nation, to make certain that in continuing our process of nationalisation we begin by truly nationalising the nationalised industries and by humanising those industries so that there should be no opinion going abroad that what we want to do when we extend the area of public control is to create carbon copies of what will become dangerously like instruments of State capitalism, accountable to no one, apparently, except themselves.
It is dismaying that in my valley the worst landlord is the National Coal Board. That is not an experience known only to myself. It is shared by far too many.
I hope that the Secretary of State will understand that, because we have been the creators of nationalised industry, because we understand, as the men in the nationalised industries understand, the positive benefits that come from nationalisation, that does not mean that the Labour movement should give blank cheques to executives who have never had the ideals and concepts which inspired the campaigns to bring about nationalised industry. It is undesirable 1420 that, simply because commercial requirements are forced on to nationalised industries in Wales, those industries should slacken their social responsibilities.
In my constituency the state of the NCB-owned housing at Garnyrhiw, Forgeside and Varteg brings no credit to the NCB. Equally, when I go to the door of a house occupied by a coughing miner who is in receipt of severance pay because he has had to leave work at an early age, I find that that man is in receipt of a derisory pension which is totally inadequate. When we consider how to shape the wages structure and the investment policy of the coal industry in the Principality we should not forget those who have served the industry so well, who have loyally supported the Labour movement and who at the end of their days and in the autumn of their lives are receiving such miserable pittances.
There is alienation in Wales, and to some degree the great material advances that have been spoken of have become ashes in the mouths of our people. It is not enough merely to identify such problems, we must apply our minds to how we can act as healing agencies in this fractured Principality, even if it is a long way from the tribal world of which we were reminded by the Secretary of State.
I do not wish to intrude on the affairs of my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) and Aberdare (Mr. Evans), but what is happening in Hirwaun, as they would be the first to understand, affects all of us. It is a sad commentary on what is occurring there that there is a wide gap between the nationalised industry and the people of that area. It concerns us all because, as I am sure the people in that area understand, the prosperity of every other constituency may depend on the availability of gas supplies. Without attempting to apportion responsibility, I must say to the Secretary of State that, although he will be busy resolving the immediate problems of the grim legacy of his inheritance from a bungling Government, the Labour Government will fail unless we have a longer-term approach as well as shorter aims.
Part of our strategy must be to achieve the greater accountability of our nationalised industry and greater control 1421 over it. In taking new holdings in Celtic oil we must not think only in terms of structures such as those which exist in Italy, where holding companies begin to take over the province of private enterprise. There, too, there has developed a gap between the nation and the executive of the State-controlled companies and accountability is lost. When the new administration is able to take breath, I ask that, apart from the urgent inquiries on steel and gas and the departmental review of coal, there should be some form of scrutiny, whether by way of a commission or otherwise, to make certain that the industry is felt to belong to us, and that the men who work in it do not feel disgruntled but act as missionaries for the Socialist belief that we held and still hold and by which we intend to shape the Wales of tomorrow.
§ Several hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Before calling the next speaker, I ask hon. Members to realise that unless they exercise greater self-discipline many hon. Members will be disappointed at not being called.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Morgan (Denbigh)
I shall certainly apply self-discipline to myself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall direct my observations to one topic only. Before doing so, however, I extend my congratulations to the new Secretary of State and to the junior Ministers in the Welsh Office upon their appointments. I wish them well in dealing with the many problems that they will have to face in Wales.
May I take this opportunity, too, of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) on his able maiden speech. He is no stranger to the House although up to now he has come here, as he put it himself, in a mute capacity. I am sure that he will make many valuable contributions to our proceedings in years to come.
Bearing in mind what you said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not allow myself to be tempted to speak on the subject of devolution, much as I should like to do so. No doubt we shall have plenty of opportunity to do so in the life of this Parliament.
1422 Bearing in mind what the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Davies) said about the right of an individual Member on Welsh Day to choose any relevant subject dealing with Welsh affairs, I wish to speak about an important issue relating to communications in North Wales. I hope that I shall have the sympathy of the Secretary of State when I do so. I say that with some confidence, because I well remember that one of the first problems he had to deal with as a new Member of the House in 1959 was the traffic bottleneck that then existed at Port Talbot. As I am sure he has by now realised, and as the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) will have realised long ago, North Wales also has its bottleneck problems, but unfortunately ours seem to take rather longer to resolve than do those of our compatriots in the South.
The matter I wish to raise is the route of the proposed Colleon expressway which particularly affects two constituencies, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) and my own, Indirectly it is of great importance to all the constituencies of North Wales but ours are the ones most concerned because of the degree of destruction and blighting of property with which we are threatened. I shall not trespass upon the preserves of my hon. Friend the Member for Conway, and I propose to limit my observations in this context to what has happened, and has not happened, within my constituency.
The story so far of this projected expressway is a long and, I regret to say, lamentable one. I hope that the fact that I have drawn attention to this matter in this debate will serve as a spur to the Secretary of State to resolve the problem as a matter of considerable urgency. I do not wish to bore the House with all the details of what has occurred since the expressway was first mooted way back in 1968. Suffice it for me to deal with the broad outline.
The original proposal, as it appeared in. 1968, involved four possible routes running straight through Colwyn Bay, which is the most populous town on the North Wales coast, and the adoption of any of these routes would have involved appreciable destruction and blighting of property. The route pre- 1423 ferred by the Welsh Office at that time was not quite as forbidding as the other three, but it would, if adopted, have caused dislocation enough in all conscience.
Since there was considerable and immediate objection to any of the proposed routes from a large section of the inhabitants of Colwyn Bay, I thought it right to ask a distinguished right hon. Member of this House—now occupying the position of Mr. Deputy Speaker—who was then the Secretary of State for Wales to be good enough to review the position generally. Fortuitously I had an opportunity to do so shortly after the proposals were published because we happened to have a Welsh Day debate in October 1968 following the September in which the proposals first appeared. The then Secretary of State was good enough to agree to reconsider the matter and I was grateful to him. The local authority concerned shortly afterwards formally expressed disapproval by an overwhelming majority of the preferred route and, by inference, of the other proposed routes as well.
Nobody thought at that time, in October 1968, that reconsideration of the expressway route would go on for years and years and would still be unresolved in 1974. It was not until the end of July 1972 that an alternative proposal emerged from the Welsh Office, and that one, I regret to say, was even more unacceptable than the original preferred route. If adopted, it would cause appreciably more disturbance to property than the one proposed in 1968. For that reason it met with solid local opposition. This time the local authority rejected it unanimously, not merely by a large majority as on the previous occasion.
Now, although the new proposed route was announced and publicised nearly two years ago, no draft order has yet been made. Until that is done, it is impossible under existing procedures for a public inquiry to be held. A public inquiry is imperative in this case to enable the local authority and members of the public, particularly those who are directly affected, to air their objections and, furthermore, so that the most recent evidence with regard to possible alternative routes may be considered. In due course objectors will be entitled as of right to a public inquiry. What I am really asking for 1424 is that this inquiry should be held sooner rather than later.
Since the preferred route of 1972 was made known, the local authority, the Colwyn Bay Borough Council, has commissioned consultants to investigate possible alternative routes, and the consultants have produced an interim report in which they reject the present preferred route in favour of an inland route. I am also informed that the Welsh Office itself appears to have had doubts about the wisdom of the expressway route both inside Colwyn Bay and just outside, at Llanddulas.
What I and others find disturbing is that there are ominous signs that the Welsh Office is acting as if the preferred route of 1972, subject to certain minor alterations, is cut and dried, whatever may emerge at the public inquiry. Land is being acquired and piecemeal improvements are being made to the neighbouring section of the A55 trunk road. My plea to the Secretary of State is that a public inquiry should be held as soon as possible and that, if necessary, a draft order should be made to expedite matters.
Secondly, I believe that no action should be taken that might prejudice the adoption of an alternative route pending the holding of that inquiry, and in particular that the Welsh Office should not in the meantime commit itself to any piecemeal improvements to the A55 in the vicinity of Colwyn Bay—however desirable they might be in themselves—that might in the end have the effect of ruling out better and less destructive routes. These are reasonable requests and I hope that the Secretary of State will have no difficulty in acceding to them.
There is one other smaller but nevertheless important matter that I wish to mention. It so happens that an excellent official model has been prepared of the preferred route, but for some reason the Welsh Office has shown great reluctance in putting it on exhibition to the public. Surely it is only reasonable that members of the public whose homes are threatened should at least have the right to be informed in the clearest possible terms of what they are faced with. One reason given by the Welsh Office for its coyness in displaying the model is that no draft order has yet been made and 1425 that the route is therefore only a preferred route and not the final adopted route. Quite frankly, I find such an attitude impossibly legalistic and totally unrealistic. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will sweep away any remaining objection to the model being put on show.
What I wish to stress most of all is the necessity for settling this thorny problem satisfactorily, with due regard to public opinion, in the shortest possible time. I know that the Secretary of State will appreciate that many citizens in Colwyn Bay have had the dual swords of dispossession and blight hanging over them for nearly six years, with no present prospect—unless speedy action is taken—of any relief for some considerable time to come. It is an impossible situation, and it must be remedied.
The Secretary of State in his comprehensive speech said that we had a long way to go in Wales to achieve an effective road programme. I entirely agree. When I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman a short while ago not to permit piecemeal improvements of the A55 in the area of Colwyn Bay pending a public inquiry, I was not seeking to discourage him from effecting necessary improvements elsewhere on that trunk road. The A55 has been a disgrace for years and we in North Wales have been very conscious of this. We have not an inch of motorway in the North and even our modest demands for a dual carriageway for our main coastal trunk road have not been met. All the local authorities in North Wales are united in calling for a better communications system up to the English border. Nobody interested in the tourist industry—an increasingly important element in the Welsh economy—can fail to compare our dismal A55 and other roads in North Wales with the splendid approach roads to English tourist centres. One such English tourist centre that immediately springs to my mind is Blackpool.
I appreciate that the scope of road improvements must be restricted by Government economies, but I hope that the Secretary of State will give high priority to the betterment of the A55. I also wish to put in a plea for the provision of an adequate north-south road, which has been a crying necessity 1426 for so long. So far there has been mere tinkering with this problem.
I said at the outset of my remarks that I would not allow myself to be tempted to speak about devolution and I shall continue to restrain myself. I wish to make only one comment. Whatever our views about devolution, we are all, on both sides of the House, surely in agreement on one thing; namely, that Wales is now one administrative unit. Let that fact at least be reflected in our communications system.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)
At the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say how very pleased I am to see you occupying the Chair. I have no doubt that you will continue to keep me in order as you have done over the years that we have known each other. We shall miss your humour from the Dispatch Box, but I have no doubt that you will have plenty of opportunity to demonstrate it from the Chair.
I want also to welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to his new position as Secretary of State, and I can do no better than wish him success to equal that of his Labour predecessors who distinguished themselves in that appointment.
I wish to draw attention to a number of matters of specific interest to Mid-Wales, and I want first to bring to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the problem of rates. It will be no surprise to him to hear that. I congratulate him on obtaining an additional £16 million for Wales in the form of rate support grant, but he will realise that that is of little comfort to my constituents since, by equalising the rate relief on the domestic element, he has decreased the relief to Brecknock by 4.5p in the pound and that to Radnor by 6p in the pound.
The situation was already bleak in these districts, and no one would have dreamt that it would be made worse. In effect, it means that sparsity weighting has now been ignored and that the difficulties suffered by a rural population will be further compounded.
The cost of living is higher in this area. For example, a loaf of bread costs 1 p more than elsewhere. There are no bus services. People have to own cars if 1427 they want to be mobile. At the same time, average wages are £5 a week less than they are in the United Kingdom.
As if this were not enough, we have the massive new water charges to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) referred. The area is covered by the South-East Brecon-shire and the Radnorshire and North Breconshire Water Boards, and they are to suffer increases of 297 and 257 per cent. respectively. That is four and three-and-a-half times the water rates that they previously paid. That is on the domestic tariff. On metered supplies, the rates will be four and three times as big respectively. The rate support grant domestic relief was intended to offset this. We now find that areas with the lowest increases in water charges are to benefit more from relief.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend explain why neighbouring districts in the same new county, such as Montgomery, should be treated so differently? Montgomery is to receive 5p more in the form of relief, although its water rate will be 4.1p with a meter charge of 16.7p per 1,000 gallons. In Radnor the rates will be 20p and 60p per 1,000 gallons. Montgomery conies under the Severn and Trent Regional Water Authority. Brecknock and Radnor are in the Welsh National Water Authority. There may be a lesson to be learned here.
Those figures are a sufficient argument for the Secretary of State to call for an immediate inquiry into the estimates of the Welsh National Water Authority. The Welsh Office has not scrutinised these figures sufficiently, in my view.
On 1st February, my hon. and learned Friend's predecessor said:The precise factors influencing particular charges are matters for the Welsh National Water Development Authority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February 1974; Vol. 868, c. 201.]I say that they are matters for us all, and not simply for the Welsh National Water Development Authority. If an inquiry is made into these matters, I implore my right hon. and learned Friend to take steps to counter this trend. I am sure that he will recognise that these areas of low average earnings can ill afford such treatment. It is impossible to explain to my constituents why they who 1428 supply so much water to various parts of the United Kingdom, should have to pay more for their water than other people do. If my right hon. and learned Friend sets up an inquiry, he will do well to consider the whole method of costing our water supplies.
I was glad to receive my right hon. Friend's reply to my Question on Monday on growth town policy. He said:The Government intend to press ahead vigorously with the development of the growth towns."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 645.]I am confident that he will carry out that promise. But in case he loses his nerve or in case his advisers deflect him from this purpose, I serve him notice that I shall be here as a constant reminder to him of his words.
In an exchange following that answer the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) asked whether my right hon. and learned Friend's attention had been drawn to the announcement made last summer about an intensification of growth town policy in Mid-Wales. However we ask for more than announcements. That was only an announcement last summer. We shall judge the Secretary of State by deeds and not by words.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement about the new tenant for the factory at Rhayader. It is appropriate to refer to Rhayader, which of course is one of the nominated growth towns. I have today received telegrams from the district council and the parish council and messages from others about their fears for the future of postal services in Rhayader. The head postmaster told me this week of his proposals to change the present post office from corporation to sub-office status during the year. Under the proposals the sorting office will also be closed, with delivery and collection work being transferred to Llandrindod Wells.
I am told also that the electricity showrooms are to close. What is more, the services of the registration officer have been lost. There are fears about the ambulance service. This is no way to treat a growth town. What confidence can industrialists and individuals have in such an area?
Before the trend goes too far, I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to 1429 intervene. I know that his powers are limited, but he might remind all concerned that the plans for the area are for expansion and not retraction. Will my right hon. and learned Friend contact the Post Office? More than services are at stake. There is status at stake. The status of a growth town is at stake.
Population shifts in Wales have been mentioned. Inward migration to Mid-Wales has been discussed. I am not confident that we are attracting the right age groups. I have come across many older people who have moved to Mid-Wales to retire. We welcome them, but I am not sure that we are retaining our young people as we should.
Finally I pay tribute to the Mid-Wales Development Corporation and its officers. They have done a magnificent job in Newtown. On 15th March 1967, in the Welsh Grand Committee, the then Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey, said:The first task of that corporation—and I stress that it is only the first task—will be to double the size of Newtown."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Welsh Grand Committee, 15th March 1967, c. 8.]That was its first task. For the past three years we have been asking for an extension of its remit so that it might get to work on other towns. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to ensure that there is no jealousy of the power and success of the corporation.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement on Monday thatWe are beginning to ensure that there is a suitable body in mid-Wales to develop the interests of the area."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 646.]I would prefer to substitute the phrase… comprehensively to produce a more balanced economy in the area".
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)
In the last Parliament, I sat mute on Welsh days listening to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with critical appreciation. I congratulate you on reversing our rôles in a way which adds great dignity and honour to yourself.
I add my own congratulations to the Secretary of State and his colleagues. I wish them well in office. The best compliment that I can pay the right hon. and learned Gentleman is to say that I wish to refer to the latter part of his speech 1430 where he discussed the Government's decision to initiate discussions in Scotland and Wales of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution and to bring forward proposals in a White Paper.
Whatever those proposals may be—we have already received indications from the Lord President of the Council that they will not be the entire scheme of legislative devolution most favoured by the Commission—we must ensure that they are acceptable to the Welsh people as a whole. To implement such proposals without the full support of the people most affected would be disastrous from every standpoint.
If the renegotiation of our terms of entry into the Common Market is to be put to the British people, then any major change in Welsh membership of the United Kingdom should be put to the Welsh people. The Queen's Speech, in its reference to Rhodesia, states that the Governmentwill agree to no settlement which is not supported by the African majority.Surely a similar principle should govern any major change, if there is to be one, in the constitutional position of Wales. The people of Wales would never forgive this Parliament if it changed the system of government in Wales for reasons which had more to do with party political advantage than a genuine desire to provide better government.
There are those in Wales—I am sorry that some of them should be absent now—who feel strongly that the fact of Welsh nationhood demands some form of independent political expression as of right. I respect that feeling. However, it does not blind me to the political reality that not everyone in Wales shares that belief. Indeed, not everyone in Wales shares to the same extent the sense of belonging to our "old and haughty nation", as Milton described it. Yet the government of Wales affects everyone in it. Therefore, any changes in the way that Wales is governed must surely be acceptable to the vast majority, if not all.
I think that I should gently warn the Government and, indeed, the House that the people of Wales will look very closely at the economic and financial implications of any proposed constitutional changes. We have a saying in Wales which you, 1431 Mr. Deputy Speaker, will understand, Diwedd y gan yw y geiniog. Literally translated it means, "There is a penny at the end of the song." In other words, there is a financial aspect to any performance.
The reaction in Wales to any constitutional changes will depend on the tangible benefits and advantages that can be expected as a result of those changes. We should like to be better off, certainly not worse off, as a result of any changes. There is an understandable fear in Wales that the latter might be the case. We should be well aware of this fear.
We are deeply aware of what the Memorandum of Dissent callssubstantial economic and financial supportgiven to Wales by England. We certainly do not want to put that support at risk by losing some of the political rights already gained which have proved their worth.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State give an assurance, following the Lord President's remarks in the House recently, that the Government would wish to retain the Secretary of State for Wales as well as the Secretary of State for Scotland. But may I press the right hon. and learned Gentleman a shade further. I should be glad of an assurance that the office will be kept independent of other Cabinet appointments. We know that there is a suggestion here and there in the Kilbrandon Report that the office of Secretary of State for Wales might be attached to another office. We should regard that as a regressive step. We fought long and hard for a voice for Wales in the Cabinet, and it would be regressive if we were to lose that voice now for some chimerical gains whose worth have not been tried, let alone proved.
I was glad, too, that the Lord President was explicit on the point that the Governmentwould not wish to see the number of Members of Parliament from Scotland and Wales to the House reduced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March 1974; Vol. 870, c. 800.]It is here that the major economic and financial decisions affecting Wales are and will be taken.
Although the Government give the impression that they are open minded on the Royal Commission's proposals, they have 1432 clearly closed their minds to certain possibilities, about which I am glad. My personal preference is for those recommendations which focus most sharply on the problem of making government more effective in the practical sense of bringing the remedial power of government closer to areas of economic and social need which, if unattended, soon become areas of discontent.
There are, in my experience, few such areas that could not be transformed into Gardens of Eden if sufficient governmental power could be brought to bear upon them. The reasons why this does not happen more often are not that the needs are inadequately represented to government, but that, first, the resources of government are not limitless in themselves, and, secondly, that their use is governed by common economic and social sense.
Almost every problem raised in the debate today will prove the point that I am making. It is not the Government's lack of knowledge of these problems that prevents their solution but the limitations on resources that I have already indicated.
Demands on the Government always exceed their ability to meet those demands, despite enormous increases in public expenditure. This is true of local and national government and it will be true of regional government as well.
It is argued that regional government may be beneficial in ensuring that regional priorities regarding the use of resources are ordered according to the wishes of the people of the region. The argument has some validity, but we should be foolish to imagine that the establishment of regional government in itself would be the solution of our problems and the beginning of a new millenium.
I should now like to refer briefly to certain constituency problems that illustrate my general theme. First, agriculture, for which the Secretary of State for Wales has a limited responsibility. The problems of the pig and beef producers, the rise in the costs of feeding stuffs and the high prices paid for store cattle and calves in the recent past, are well known to us. I do not know to what extent the problem of the beef producers will be alleviated, particularly by the talks going on in Brussels, in view of the attitude being taken by the Government.
1433 I am also concerned about the problems of sheep farmers and the insufficiency of the guaranteed price for wool which is now about 9p per lb. below the world price.
It is fair to ask what representations the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made to his right hon. Friend about the plight of farmers in Wales. They are the backbone of our rural communities and their well-being is all-important to us. Does the Secretary of State have enough authority over the agricultural sector? Should not further functions concerning agriculture be transferred to him.
There is also the question of higher education, which particularly concerns me because of the University College of North Wales at Bangor. I recollect that when responsibility for primary and secondary education was transferred to the Secretary of State for Wales, under the previous Government, the Opposition were highly critical of the division of responsibility. Do the Government intend to do anything about it now? There are distinctive Welsh problems in higher education, such as the claim of North Wales, as opposed to Swansea, for a medical school, which I believe is currently a matter for the University Grants Commission and the Department of Education and Science, rather than for the Welsh Office.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies
The important distinction is that the Swansea case has the full backing of a Royal Commission which spent three years considering the matter.
§ Mr. Roberts
I accept that.
Finally I turn to employment. I remind the Secretary of State of a letter dated 18th March which he should have received by now from the Caernarvonshire and Anglesey Manufacturing Association, which comprises a dozen companies in that area. The association is concerned about the effect of the Llanberis hydroelectric scheme on local work forces.
I hope the Secretary of State will look into the matter closely and try to ensure that the work force required for the Llanberis scheme is built up from areas where unemployment is heaviest rather than from workers already employed in local factories.
1434 I take rather a different view on the employment situation in my constituency and in North-West Wales from that of the hon. Member for Caernarvonshire (Mr. Wigley), as I understand from the Caernarvonshire and Anglesey Manufacturing Association that there is a shortage of skilled labour in the area. Many firms are afraid of losing their employees to the hydroelectric scheme.
I believe I have said enough to suggest that it is necessary to transfer further functions to the Welsh office to enable it to bring Government closer to the people. It is our job as Members of Parliament to bring the needs of the people to the attention of Government. Whether we do this adequately—I am sure we all do our best, according to our lights—is a separate question from that of the action, or inaction, of Government following our representations. It does not always follow that the stronger the representation the more prompt and gratifying the response.
To say that there was a certain lack of agreement last night in the debate on the Kilbrandon report would be the understatement of the year. I shall not add further to that except to suggest that when we talk of a new elected assembly in Wales it might help us to think in terms of the individual member of that assembly and ask what he should do that we cannot do ourselves by way of representing our constituents.
There is a danger of quantitative overrepresentation, with all the different tiers of local government, and perhaps we should be more concerned about the quality of representation. Many of us have experience of dealing with constituents' problems that strictly speaking should not have been our concern—for instance, housing and similar matters.
I shall approach any proposals which the Government bring forward from the basic standpoint of how they will better the representation and government of the individual subject. It is a Tory standpoint and highly relevant in the context of Wales.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)
I am delighted, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we are able to address you as the occupant of the Chair. We miss you greatly in our counsels but our loss is the gain of the House of Commons. Should you 1435 ever tire of your onerous duties, you would be warmly welcomed if you returned to the conflict-free peace and calm of the Welsh table.
I also pay warm and sincere tribute to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, who made his debut in the House today. It was an inspiring speech which augurs well for Wales. Having listened to him this afternoon we know that the Welsh Office is in good hands.
By a curious chance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you once described Abertillery as paradise. You said that it reminded you of paradise because it took so long to get there. Unhappily, that position has not changed. I refer to the A467 road from Newport to Brynmawr. I first raised this matter in an Adjournment debate in December 1972 and I have been raising it ever since, both in the House, with Ministers of the last administration, and at Monmouthshire County Council. The situation is serious.
In reply to a letter of mine dated 1st February 1972 the then Minister of State agreed that the question of the road was of considerable importance, yet nothing happened. Consultants were to have published a report on land use transportation in Gwent in 1972, yet they did so only a few weeks ago. I emphasise that they recommend that this highly important A467 should be upgraded and designated as a through road.
We must have a new road from Newport to Brynmawr. As long ago as March 1972 the former Secretary of State for Wales stated in a letter to me that there was a very real need for early improvement of the road. Therefore, the need for improvement is not in dispute.
However, the position is now so bad that bus drivers, lorry drivers and drivers of all kinds should be paid danger money or some other compensation for having to face the hazards of driving up the pass from Newport to Nant-y-glo. It is one of the most disgraceful roads in the Principality and it has a deterrent effect on potential industrial developers.
There has been one serious accident on the road already. Although there was no loss of life, that was purely fortuitous. The road is in a highly dangerous con- 1436 dition. I am particularly concerned about the hundreds of schoolchildren who have to brave this dreadful road day after day in their school buses. Unless this is treated as a matter of the greatest urgency, we could well be faced with the kind of tragedy which one is almost afraid to contemplate. It is for these reasons that I beg my right hon. and learned Friend to treat the road as a special case and, if necessary, to allocate extra money to the new Gwent County Council so that it can begin the job as soon as possible.
I turn now to the question of the Kilbrandon Report. I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of the people of Wales are against separatism and against any form of legislative assembly with powers which would weaken the sinews of the people of Wales at Westminster. Apart from any other fact, it would not only be a further onerous burden on the taxpayer but would be a fraud on him because all major decisions would still have to be taken here at Westminster. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in what has been laughingly described as the "London Government", would still have his fingers on the purse strings and would still be calling the financial tune.
If ever a report was ill-conceived, it was the Kilbrandon Report. After a long and querulous period of gestation, the commission finally gave birth to what can only be described as a mess of pottage, a veritable dog's dinner, and I very much hope that it will not be used as an excuse to throw a few bones to the nationalists.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said on Monday, in the debate on the Gracious Speech, that before conclusions are reached discussions are to take place with leading figures in Wales. I hope that the voices of the people of Gwent and Glamorgan in particular, the areas of the highest population concentration—and, let it be said, with a record a great loyalty to the Labour movement over a very long period—will be heard and taken into account before any decisions are made.
I was glad to hear the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) in connection with the rejection of the Llantrisant new town proposal. Could the Secretary of State 1437 deploy part, if not all, of the £260 million earmarked for that project in the valleys and consider, in contrast to the previous Secretary of State's churlish reaction to the Llantrisant inspector's report, the proposal for a regional plan for South Wales and the valleys? I have never understood why we are the only region in the United Kingdom which has no proper strategy and where the planning is haphazard and piecemeal.
The matter which is perhaps the most important and compelling problem facing Wales at present is the question of the supply of gas for industrial purposes. I am glad to hear that discussions are to take place this week between the action committee at Hirwaun and representatives of the gas board. We wish those discussions well. We hope that the forces of reconciliation will prevail. But it is essential that the facts should be known. We are now using six times as much gas as we did in 1970. In order to add to the availability of gas supplies, and for emergency purposes, it is vital that Wales Gas should install storage tanks.
It is a fact, although an incredible one, that we are the only region in Great Britain without a single storage tank. Before Christmas I discovered to my horror that about 1,200 jobs were to be lost to my constituency because Wales Gas had informed the firms concerned that it could not guarantee adequate supplies. I later discovered that no fewer than 152 firms had been written to in similar terms by officers and officials of Wales Gas. It has been estimated that unless we have the tanks about 160,000 jobs will be affected in South Wales alone during the next five years. This picture has been confirmed independently by both the Department of Industry in Wales and the Welsh CBI.
It is against that background that I welcome the talks which will take place this week. I want to say nothing that will be of any embarrassment to those taking part in the discussions. But many have admired the stand taken by the people of Hirwaun. Many of us have had the greatest understanding and sympathy. I know that the people concerned realise that it is now a matter of supreme importance. It is a desperate problem, a Welsh problem. Many thousands of 1438 workers throughout South Wales are affected.
Tomorrow I have the privilege of opening a 200-acre industrial site at Penyfan. If firms will not come to Penyfan because they cannot obtain gas supplies, the whole thing will be a hollow sham. I want it to be understood that that is perhaps the starting point, and that unless we get the gas thousands of people in Monmouthshire will face grave problems. I know that all hon. Members wish those concerned a fair wind, and hope that a way can be found round the impasse.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. David Gibson-Watt (Hereford)
In taking part briefly in the debate, I wish to add my congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to your present position.
The debate has run on lines of other Welsh debates which I and other hon. Members have known for many years. It has been a positive debate, in which hon. Members have raised particular problems. I wish to touch on only three.
First, agriculture was raised by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts). The present picture of agriculture may be patchy, but it is not all bad. The position of the pig and cattle producers is difficult, but the milk producers have been helped to a large extent by the latest award in the price review. There has never been a time when sheep have done better in Wales. Long may this continue.
I congratulate the new Secretary of State on his appointment. His responsibilities include some responsibility for agriculture in Wales. I urge him to strengthen the arm of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries in all his negotiations, whether at home or in Brussels. None of us knows what will happen in Brussels. We only hope that the results will be good for our country. I do not wish to say anything which would hamper the efforts of the Minister and his colleagues, the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland, who have a particular responsibility in this respect.
There has not been a great deal of discussion in the debate about the environment of Wales. I did not notice it in the speech of the Secretary of State, and I do think that I have heard it in 1439 other speeches, yet is is an increasingly important matter in a coutry which was so devastated by the Industrial Revolution.
If I may give credit for what the previous Government did in that respect, I remind the House first of the continued and increasing amount of moneys spent on derelict land. It is fairly said that some South Wales valleys bear no resemblance to what they looked like before 1967. I say to the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) that I can hardly count the number of times when I have visited his constituency, with much pleasure, in order to inaugurate a new derelict land reclamation scheme. Long may that process continue. I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to find funds to go on with this necessary work.
It is not only on derelict land reclamation that we need to spend our environmental attention. We need to continue exercises in respect of oil pollution prevention, and with the experiments on testing metal prevalent in the air, if such metal pollution is there. We must continue to concentrate upon improving the cleanliness of our rivers, again a feature of work carried out over the last few years. I should not like this debate, which has often referred to what has happened over the past three and a half years, to overlook the significant part played by my right hon. and learned Friend when he and I were at the Welsh Office.
There was one comment in the Secretary of State's speech to which I might add an observation. Naturally, he was at pains to talk about housing figures. Over the years all of us in the House have used housing figures to suit ourselves. May I repeat what I said when I was sitting on the Front Bench opposite: that housing in Wales or anywhere else cannot be looked at only in the context of the public sector. It is the public sector plus the private sector, plus the improved houses that should be considered, because they form the total housing stock.
I give the figures again. In 1970 the total in round figures of public plus private sector houses, plus improved houses, was 26,000 houses. The figure for 1973 was 42,000 houses. Those figures 1440 tell a tale, and it is not a tale of neglect by the previous Government.
I conclude by wishing the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his two colleagues as successful and pleasant a term of office at the Welsh Office as my right hon. and learned Friend and I had.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Davies (Llanelli)
May I also extend my congratulations to you publicly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to your high position in the House. Your appointment has been greeted with admiration in Wales, and with approval from both sides of the House, but especially among your numerous friends throughout Wales. I congratulate too my right hon. and learned Friend and hon. Friends on their appointments to the Welsh Office. I am sure that they will do their utmost to further the well-being and welfare of our nation.
In the short time available, I shall discard most of what I had prepared for my speech and make a few remarks about the Kilbrandon issue and the constitution. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his announcement that a White Paper will be published very soon, to facilitate full consultation. I hope he will resist the blandishments or threats of those who say that he should set a date or a time limit upon that consultation. I believe that one of the errors into which the previous administration fell was that on many matters they promised consultation, they brought forward Green or White Papers, and before any consultation was possible they brought in a Bill which was enacted into law after very little debate in the House. I hope—indeed, I am sure—that we shall not have that experience repeated, especially in respect of something so important as the machinery of government and the constitution of the United Kingdom.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will not fall into the error, if that be the correct word, of believing that it is possible easily to fit into a new elected assembly in Cardiff, which we all want to see, substantial legislative powers, especially at the beginning. I believe that there are considerable difficulties involved in trying to set up machinery in Cardiff which would involve legislation.
Those difficulties were mirrored and shown by the reports of the six members 1441 of the Kilbrandon Commission who made that recommendation. They had to say, logically, that once there was legislative power in Cardiff the office of Secretary of State for Wales should cease to exist. That might have been the right thing in logic, yet we all agree in this House that it should not happen. Again, in logic, they had to argue that, if there was to be legislation in Cardiff, there should be a reduction in the number of Welsh Members of Parliament. That is a logical extension of what they were advocating. Most hon. Members, however, including, I believe, members of the Welsh National Party, would say that there should not be a reduction in the number of Welsh Members.
Finally, in recommending a legislative body in Cardiff, the Kilbrandon Commission had to consider the difficult problem of how to raise the revenue. Once one confers the power to legislate in a substantial way, one has to give that body some authority, some means of raising money, because without the power of taxation or the power of raising money the power of legislating is a mere sham.
The Kilbrandon Commission went to the ridiculous extreme of proposing some kind of exchequer board, an exchequer board which I understood not to be democratically controlled, not to be democratically responsible, and to be composed of people who were not very active in public life. That was the machinery the Royal Commission was forced to propose in order to try to give this legislative body some kind of power over its own finances.
I believe that this process is extremely difficult, and I hope that at the initial stage we shall not be seduced into believing that it is possible to invest the directly elected assembly in Cardiff with any legislative function.
The elected assembly can do three things and it can take over three powers. If it does so, it will make a substantial contribution to good government and democracy in Wales. These have been mentioned before. First, there are the nominated bodies. There is a very strong case for having the nominated bodies placed under the jurisdiction of a democratically elected Welsh assembly so that their decisions can be made publicly and the people who make those 1442 decisions can be responsible to the electorate of Wales.
Secondly, I believe that there is also a case for devolving certain executive powers upon a directly elected assembly in Cardiff. We have heard hon. Members on both sides raising constituency problems, some involving hospitals, some involving roads and others involving schools. This is just about the only opportunity, apart from the Welsh Grand Committee, that we have in this House to raise these matters publicly. We have to use this forum, which is not the ideal forum, to raise these matters publicly which affect our constituents.
Many of the decisions involving hospitals, schools and roads which are taken by the Secretary of State for Wales—they are executive, not legislative, decisions—could be devolved upon a directly elected Welsh assembly, not because the decisions or the end results might be different but because the people of Wales could then see how the decisions were arrived at in a democratic manner. That is very important in a democracy. We have heard tonight about the alienation which exists between the governed and the people who govern them. It is very important in a democracy that decisions should be explained to people, that they should be able to see how those decisions are arrived at and the difficulties of the Government in coming to decisions.
If we could devolve some of the Secretary of State's executive powers upon a directly elected assembly in Cardiff we would make a substantial contribution to democracy and good government in the Principality.
Thirdly, we could possibly make some investigation into the possibility of having instruments that affect the Principality of Wales debated and passed in the Welsh assembly. In the last Session I served on a Select Committee looking into ways of improving the procedures for debating statutory instruments. Often, because of the pressure of time, it is not possible to debate certain matters.
Again, I ask my right and hon. learned Friend to look at the possibility, once we have established the directly-elected assembly, of transferring the consideration of some statutory instruments to that assembly so that they may be debated publicly in Wales.
1443 It is important, as the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said, to realise that what we are trying to do is to contribute towards greater democracy in Wales and greater responsibility in decision making so that people in Wales may see the decisions being taken. Quite apart from the devolution of power, there are many decisions today which are taken behind closed doors by good and worthy men who may come to the right decision. However, it is important that we should set up machinery to enable the public actually to see these decisions being made, to debate them and try to influence the people who make the decisions.
I welcome the speed, not the haste, with which my right hon. and learned Friend is approaching this problem. If we in this Parliament can present the people of Wales and the United Kingdom with a Bill to set up an elected assembly in Cardiff with substantial powers, I believe that we shall have made a major contribution to good government and democracy in our nation.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)
; First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to join with other hon. Members who have congratulated you. It is a great pleasure to see you in that seat. I should like also to congratulate my hon Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) on his maiden speech, which was as competent and well-informed as we knew it would be.
While I am in a congratulatory mood, I am delighted to congratulate a fellow Royal Welch Fusilier on his assuming such an important responsibility. We may not always like his politics, but at least we know he has received a proper training in service. I wish him well. However, I should like to say this to him. If he is to do well in this Parliament he must recognise that he is the spokesman of a minority Government, following the greatest setback that his party has suffered in Wales for a generation. Nowhere is this more true than in rural Wales.
A well-known agricultural journal said this about the matter:Their appreciation of agricultural economics was woefully lacking in their last Administration which closed in 1969 and 1970 1444 with farming at its lowest ebb for many years and with demonstrations in the streets of market towns and auction marts. Their manifesto and their public speeches offer us no hope for a better deal next time".Rural Wales will be watching this Government with real anxiety. It has little confidence in a Labour Party that it has almost swept from the Welsh countryside. The farmers, like every other section of the community, have been caught up in the economic whirlwind—the 90 per cent. increase in world commodity prices, the 250 per cent. increase in the world price of grain and the fourfold increase since November in the price of oil.
Until the whirlwind struck in the summer, farmers had enjoyed a period of expansion and relative prosperity. They had benefited from the emergency injection of October 1970 which was a blood transfusion to pull them up from six years of Labour neglect. They had had the three good reviews that followed, including that of 1972, which I think is acknowledged to have been one of the best in history. They had seen production expand at four times the rate of the previous six years. Within a period of a few months it was brought home to them with a vengeance that farmers could not hope to escape the consequences of world events, and that no group had a greater interest in the central issue of our time, the fight against inflation.
The Conservative Government took action in the price review to correct the plight of the milk producers. They took what one NFU spokesman described as unprecedented action to meet an unprecedented situation. The new Government now have a duty to show that, despite the forebodings, they recognise the vital rôle of agriculture in the economy. They have an immediate and urgent task to save the pigmeat sector, of which many right hon. and hon. Members have spoken, from disaster.
My right hon. and learned Friend the former Secretary of State undertook before the election to seek to renegotiate the monetary compensatory amounts so that they no longer have the effect of giving the Danish producers an advantage of about £3 a bacon pig. The effect of currency changes has been to distort the present. EEC mechanism, and in effect the producer is now subsidising the consumer. Corrective action is urgently needed 1445 The recent award did not cover beef producers. Farmers had been eagerly, even desperately, awaiting the outcome of the discussions in Brussels. It is unfortunate that one consequence of the election has been to delay those discussions. What is now imperative is that the Government do not allow their dislike of Europe, or their desire to renegotiate, to postpone or interfere with the need to bring these agricultural negotiations to a successful conclusion. Welsh beef producers will look to the Government to defend their interests.
I am bound to tell the Government that already we differ about what constitutes a reasonable response to an urgent situation. I refer to the crisis that we now face in Milford and the probability, rather than the possibility, that within a week or two the whole of the Milford fishing industry will be closed down.
The fishermen, like the farmers, have been catastrophically hit by a rise in prices, this time by the increase in fuel costs that has taken effect only within the past few weeks. The industry presented the facts to me in the middle of the election campaign. Immediately upon the appointment of the new Government, I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture and to the Secretary of State for Wales asking them to meet the trawler owners as as matter of urgency.
A week later I received a letter from an assistant private secretary saying that he would show my letter to his Minister as soon as possible. I telephoned the private office and explained that 500 people would be out of work by the end of the month, and again called for an urgent meeting. I again wrote to the Minister. I asked the Secretary of State for Wales an Oral Question on Monday and received from the Under-Secretary a rather unhelpful answer.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is making a plea with which sympathise. I am well aware of the problems of the fishermen of Milford, but those problems existed several months before the election. Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell the House what action he took in relation to his own right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries before the election?
§ Mr. Edwards
The right hon. Gentleman is misinformed about this matter. I have the information from the Milford fishermen. The large fuel price increase that has hit them so badly did not take effect until February and they asked me to go to see them and they presented the facts to me, as I have already said, only during the election campaign. The same day I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and spoke to my right hon. and learned Friend the then Secretary of State for Wales. In order to get a reply in a reasonable time from the Government, I then had to speak to the Under-Secretary and to the Ministry of Agriculture and warn them that I intended to raise the issue in this debate.
Yesterday I received a letter from the Minister of Agriculture. It said:Since writing to me, and similarly to John Morris, you have of course had his reply on the 18th March to your Oral Question. As he made clear in answering your supplementary he and I have to look very carefully at any question of special assistance, and if you were to bring the trawler owners to see either of us at the moment it would frankly not be possible to tell them anything.It went on to say:I hope therefore that you will agree that the best course will be for me to let you know as soon as we are ready for a useful exchange of views.Last night I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman and told him in the clearest possible terms what that letter meant. It means that the onus is now on the Government. They do not want to discuss our proposals, or any possible solutions, with us. The responsibility is therefore on them to produce solutions, but they only have a few days to do so.
Faced with this crisis, Ministers appear to be sitting fiddling, not while Rome burns, but while the last major fishing fleet is laid up and 400 to 500 men lose their jobs. If the Government do not do something soon, the epitaph of the Milford fishing industry may well be "It died because a Labour Government did not care".
How much do they care about the problems of rural transport? Another casualty of the General Election was the Road Traffic Bill, which contained important clauses that would have made it easier to provide minibus and other transport services in the countryside. I hope that the reference in the Queen's 1447 Speech to the improvement of public transport means that action will be taken to reintroduce similar clauses.
The Conservative Government kept open uneconomic railway lines in Wales. History or political legend relates, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a previous Labour Government kept those lines open because they ran through marginal constituencies, and you may remember the tale. Those railway lines still run through marginal constituencies, but there is a much better reason for their existence: they have a key rôle in Welsh economic and social life.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) has said, we should like to see railway lines in Wales become the responsibilties of the Welsh Office. It can be done, and I hope that it will be done.
I refer to two matters that concern rural Wales. The first is the wish of hon. Members on both sides of the House to sec the continued expansion of new towns in Mid-Wales. There was a remarkable contrast between the remarks of the right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State on this subject today and the pre-election speeches of Labour Members in the debate on 16th January. I had planned to quote from remarks made by Mr. Elystan Morgan in that debate, when he acknowledged the progress made. It is not now necessary to quote those remarks because the right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed to the substantial progress in Newtown and and to the more encouraging trends in Mid-Wales. It is heartening that for the first time for decades there has been a population increase in Mid-Wales. I am also glad to learn that the Government will try to maintain the momentum established by Conservative administrations, and I remind the House that that Government authorised the construction of 27 new factories or nursery units in Mid-Wales.
In the debate of 16th January, Mr. Elystan Morgan chided us for neglecting the western side of Mid-Wales. I have one proposal to make. If the Celtic Sea proves to be a source of oil, that will be an opportunity to establish at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth a department concerned with the whole range of underwater technology. Then we can 1448 build around it one of the science-based industries that will be one of the inevitable by-products of these new developments. We must not allow Scotland to pick up all these benefits.
I want to make one brief reference to housing. I intervened to tell the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) that the number of public sector housing starts had declined every year since 1964. He denied it, but I have the figures here. He was correct in saying that completions had declined every year since 1967. In 1970 the present Under-Secretary gave us an explanation. There is now a record of 10 years of failure by both Governments in this respect. I believe that together we must find new ways to reverse the trend. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will offer positive proposals because, looking back at our debates on this subject, I find a lack of constructive ideas.
I turn now to industrial Wales where the story of the last decade has been that of a switch from dependence on the old industrial base of iron and coal to a broadly-based economy. In his maiden speech on Monday the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said that we had failed—I do not know where he is tonight—but he was wrong. Despite the difficulties, Governments of both parties have met with some success in this area.
My right hon. and learned Friend pointed to some of our achievements. In the sixties, per capita investment in Wales was almost twice that of the rest of the United Kingdom. In 1970, 120,000 new jobs were created in Wales to offset redundancies in old industries. The process has continued. Projects brought forward under the Industry Act since 1972 will provide more than 28,000 new jobs in manufacturing industry. Since 1970 there has been a substantially higher rate of growth in Wales than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and there has been encouraging progress in attracting new jobs to the steel towns.
Unemployment, which for so long was about double the figure for Britain as a whole, fell at the end of the year to its lowest level for nine years, 3.2 per cent., compared with 2.2 per cent. I do not share the gloomy view that the exceptional events of the last three months indicate—as the light hon. and learned 1449 Gentleman appeared to suggest—that the seeds of deterioration had been sown.
The new Government are to look again at the British Steel Corporation's plans, although I think that they are not seeking to reopen the basic strategy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that there was much for Wales to welcome in that strategy. When we debated that strategy over the last year or so, it was sometimes a little hard to judge that that was so. It was hard to judge that we were dealing not with an ill-considered attack on individual communities but with a massive programme of modernisation and enlargement, with the object of placing us in a position to compete with the rest of the world and with the object of safeguarding the jobs of those who will remain in the industry and have to face that competition.
I hope that, as Ministers re-examine the details of the strategy, they will recognise the good faith of the BSC and will agree with the Chairman of the Welsh Council that the right road has been taken, that they will withdraw charges previously made of mendacious trickery and that they will concentrate their energies on building a new economic future for Wales.
I have a profound confidence that the long-term future is good, a confidence built upon our solid advantages. We have a labour force with an unrivalled sense of community. We have the sites for heavy industry alongside deep water, with, close by, in and near the valleys, the supporting and finishing industries; and we have the fresh investment of the last decade, now reinforced as a consequence of our entry into Europe. We have good and improving communications and, to cap it all, the strong possibility of a new source of indigenous fuel.
That brings me to the first of the two factors which could cast a blight over the bright prospects for industrial Wales—nationalisation and the economic crisis springing from runaway inflation. The Labour Party in its manifesto undertook to nationalise all companies involved in getting and distributing North Sea and Celtic Sea oil, and also the ports, shipbuilding, ship repairing and marine engineering. If the Labour Party wins another election, that means that most of the dockside firms in South Wales will 1450 be taken over. This week the Government have reaffirmed their determination to go ahead with that policy.
It may be argued—I do not accept it—that that would all be spendid. I leave those who think so to think it. What cannot seriously be questioned is that there would be devastating consequences for our otherwise bright prospects in the Celtic Sea. I believe that, given the choice—and the choice exists—of setting up their bases in South Wales and being nationalised or going abroad to Ireland, the oil companies and the accompanying service companies would undoubtedly set up their bases in Ireland. Given the choice—again, it exists—of using limited resources and scarce drilling rigs in British waters and being nationalised or working offshore in other parts of the world, can one doubt the pressure on the international oil companies to go elsewhere—to go to the American seaboard or to Greece, where oil has just been discovered, or to Indonesia, Australia or elsewhere?
If hon. Members opposite will not accept the argument that nationalisation would delay the recovery of the oil, I remind them that their own study group which reported in 1967 said:Nationalisation would be likely to delay the exploitation of the new wealth of energy which lies under the North Sea".This month Lord Balogh wrote:I hope that the Labour Party's programme in this field will be speedily and drastically reconsidered".Electoral realities have, for the time being, seen to that. As far as I can judge from the obscurities of the Queen's Speech, the programme has been speedily and drastically reconsidered.
We can all agree that the nation should take a substantial share of the oil revenues while allowing sufficient incentive to induce the oil companies to operate with the vigour that we require.
§ Mr. Edwards
I do not for one moment accept the contention that we are dealing with Scottish, Welsh or East Anglian oil. Any oil from the Celtic Sea is likely to come ashore through Pembrokeshire, but it may well be Cornish oil. Both the Shell and BP wells are much nearer to the Scilly Isles than to Wales. We may 1451 get Irish oil brought ashore here; we already have Irish supply boats operating out of Pembroke Dock. That does not make it our oil.
I have no desire to claim the oil exclusively for Wales, but I have a keen desire to provide jobs and opportunities for Welsh people. Surely what matters is that, if the oil is there, we get it ashore, and obtain the maximum benefits for Britain and use them to the best possible advantage for all our people.
The urge for political and economic fragmentation of our small island is becoming an obsession. It should be resisted. We should be ensuring that proper machinery is established so that the planning implications are fully considered, the necessary infrastructure provided and every encouragement and assistance given to Welsh industry to seize its opportunities.
A Conservative Government would have set up an advisory panel under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for Wales to deal with this matter. The new Secretary of State has undertaken to look urgently at the various possibilities. I hope that he will reach an early conclusion. I hope, too, that he will announce the decision to supplement the IMEG Report, which dealt only with the North Sea and bad nothing to say about Welsh industry.
I have referred to political fragmentation. To the new nationalist Members, had they been here tonight, I would say that it is no solution to deep-seated economic problems to say that they require political solution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said, there is no evidence that lack of energy or time resulted in our failure to solve our problem. In their first weeks in Parliament, the new Members have been able to ask Questions of the Secretary of State for Wales, speak on Welsh problems in the debate on the Address and speak in the debate on Kilbrandon yesterday, and one hon. Member took part in the debate on Welsh affairs tonight. They should not be misleading the Welsh people with a political will o' the wisp that can end only in frustration and disappointment. They should be producing a solid practical pro- 1452 gramme of proposals related to our place in a British and a European economy.
As to the structure of government; the Government are right to consult, because the options are still numerous. On the Conservative benches we favour executive devolution. We think that it would be wrong to remove the influence of a Welsh Secretary in a British Cabinet; we welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's comment this afternoon on that subject. Above all, we consider that before we undertake a major administrative and constitutional upheaval we should be certain of its consequences and certain that we have the support of the Welsh people as a whole.
No group can claim to speak for the Welsh people on this issue. Certainly the hon. Member for Caernarvon and the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) should be careful before making such a claim. The Government will have our support if they consult carefully and in due course produce constructive and well-thought-out proposals that obtain a wide measure of public support.
I want to say one word about Hirwaun. I take up the effective point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the people at the other end of the road—those who are affected when planning decisions are held up and we cannot get our roads built. Of course there are people along the roads who are affected, but others too are affected. The hon. Member for Abertillcry (Mr. Thomas) spoke on this matter. That is the position at Hirwaun—people are affected locally, but many others over a wide area are affected.
The time will be soon coming when we shall have to ask the Government what they propose to unstick this lag jam. We all hope that the discussions which are about to take place will help in that respect.
I spoke earlier of there being two threats to the bright prospects for the Welsh economy. The first is nationalisation. The second is the inflationary crisis with which we are now faced, the magnitude of which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North said, is too little understood. Far more important than regional incentives, infrastructure improvement or the work of task forces is 1453 the economic climate in which we have to operate. The right hon. Member for Anglesey spoke on this subject earlier in the debate.
When the economy expands Wales, with its attractions for investment, does well. When we have stagnation and deflation Wales, with its inheritance of outdated and declining basic industries, does badly. The present Foreign Secretary and the last Labour Government undertook economic policies from 1966 onwards that forced up unemployment in a single year in Wales by 15,000 and created conditions that made a further substantial rise inevitable.
Whatever Labour Members may care to say, it was Conservative policy that dramatically restored the position in 1973. The tragedy of the present situation is that the Labour Party has abandoned any policy to fight inflation. It is no longer a free agent. In the words of a former Labour Minister, it is now captive to a sectional interest. As a direct consequence of that abandonment, we now face alternatives that seem almost too awful to contemplate—either massive deflation with unemployment that would be unacceptable to all of us, or inflation running right out of control to levels that would destroy our society and our political institutions.
The Secretary of State had almost nothing to say about the central issues upon which the future of the Welsh people depends. The Welsh people have to understand that a Labour Government have already hacked a giant hole in the dam. If they keep on hammering away at it, if they increase Government expenditure and settle every wage claim on the basis of strike power, the dam will collapse and the water will soon be rising over the heads of the Welsh people.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Edward Rowlands)
I hope that you will permit a personal word to you Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is eight years to this night that, in a side room of Sophia Gardens Pavilion, a very green, nervous candidate walked around you, pacing up and down a dozen times, as he prepared to meet the first of his major political occasions when the present Prime Minister spoke there on the 1454 eve of the 1966 election. It was you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who put your hand on my shoulder and calmed me down, and you have been calming me down politically ever since. You once said that you had been my teacher in politics. I do not know what sort of a pupil I have been, but I am very grateful to you for everything you have taught me both as a fellow parliamentary colleague in Cardiff and, for a short time, when I had the privilege of serving under you when you were Secretary of State for Wales.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist). I have a certain affection for part of the area he represents, which I know well. I have won, fought and lost an election in and around his constituency. We thank him for his thoughtful speech.
I should like to say to the former Secretary of State for Wales and the former Minister of State that harsh words have been said on our side over the past three years about Hereford and Hendon. We all acknowledge the tremendous work that both Ministers put in during the three-and-a-half year stint in the Welsh Office. The former Secretary of State has served two Prime Ministers——
§ Mr. Rowlands
Three Prime Ministers.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas) would have been better advised if he had read the memoirs of Mr. Macmillan before the election campaign started. A lot of other Members might well have done so. Mr. Macmillan made reference in the concluding volume of his memoirs to the fact that he as Prime Minister had learned one major political lesson, namely, never to quarrel with three groups—the Treasury, the Vatican and the NUM. I think the former Secretary of State would agree with me that it is the duty of any Secretary of State to quarrel with the Treasury. But if he had served not Hendon but Merthyr Tydfil, he would certainly not have quarrelled with either the Vatican or the National Union of Mineworkers.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
The is a fourth category which I know my hon Friend will bear in mind, and that is the Presbyterians of Anglesey.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I certainly have no intention of quarrelling with the Presbyterians of Anglesey.
I welcome to the Opposition Front Bench the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). His speech fell into two parts. The first part fell below the standard one would expect. I do not believe that it is the job of a Front Bench spokesman to raise a constituency matter in such a manner. He put forward a good honest collection of arguments; he was clearly fighting the last election.
The former Secretary of State raised a number of points about the economy and the industrial situation. He asked particularly about the steel review. I confirm that the review does not imply putting in jeopardy the British Steel Corporation's developments already announced for Shotton, Ebbw Vale and Port Talbot. That confirms what has already been said in the House by other Ministers.
The right hon. Member for Pembroke wanted to imply that all was well in 1973 and the beginning of 1974 almost until this election. In fact, the whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech seemed to imply that all the problems that have arisen happened from 1st March this year. Suddenly the agricultural industry and the farmers were penniless after 1st March. I think many hon. Members can testify that even in the industrial areas of Merthyr and Rhondda the National Farmers' Unions were calling upon us many months ago to complain most bitterly about the inactivity of the last Conservative Government in facing a number of particular problems relating to agriculture. It therefore ill suits the hon. Gentleman to cry crocodile tears about the situation facing the farmers. It was his Government that created the situation, just as his Government created the many housing problems facing us today.
He said he wanted to hear from me something about the housing position. Before putting aside the question of figures, let me tell him that in Pembrokeshire, where in 1967 607 houses were built in the county, in 1973 only 27 local authority houses were completed. I do not think Members of the Opposition and the former Secretary of State can wash their hands like Pontius Pilate of 1456 the housing situation that has been created in Wales. After an expanding and growing programme in 1970 both in the local authority and private sectors it was felt by many local authorities that the housing problems were manageable. What happened after 1970, and what could not have been anticipated in 1970, was the almost anarchic and chaotic situation that would develop in the housing market. The situation was prompted and cajoled by the policies and activities of the previous Government. They drove house prices to record levels and priced out of the housing market young married couples. These young couples then turned towards the hon. Gentleman, who serves in his constituency surgery on Saturday mornings. Not just this year but for the last 18 months, two years or more they have been asking the local authority to build houses.
The former Government began to take an interest in local authority housing towards the end of their term of office, having spent years campaigning, on principle, against the development of local authority housing. We intend to get an improvement in the number of approvals granted. With new housing initiatives, to be announced by the Government, embodying the concept of the new resources we intend putting into housing, we shall deal with the problem.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South asked about future arrangements for the Welsh Council. The Secretary of State has this matter under consideration. It is clear that there will have to be some interim or temporary arrangement to deal with the period between the end of the term of life of the present Welsh Council and the coming into existence of the new assembly under the devolution proposals. There are one or two courses of action here, and my right hon. and learned Friend hopes to discuss them shortly with the Chairman of the Welsh Council and then to make an announcement as soon as possible.
My hon. Friends raised a number of constituency points and I hope that they will forgive me if I do not deal with all of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) referred to the by-pass in his constituency. It is expected that the draft proposals dealing with the line of the by-pass will be published in 1457 June. Much will then depend upon the nature and number of the objections received. These will govern the starting date for the construction of this important road.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) referred to the A467 between Crumlin and Aberbeeg. It is principally a road for which the local authority is primarily responsible. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be looking into this matter on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery. Another hon. Friend who has served in the capacity in which I now serve, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Davies) raised the question of a medical school in Swansea, as he has done before. He has been most persuasive in arguing the case for a medical school in the city.
The Welsh Office has limited responsibility here because medical schools are the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the University Grants Committee. The Department of Health and Social Security and the Welsh Office are interested in parallel hospital provisions. My right hon. and learned Friend and I will be deciding carefully how far we can go, in the light of our priorities, in pressing on our ministerial colleagues the claims of another medical school in Wales.
Some issues have been surprisingly absent from the debate in view of their extreme importance. We are on the eve of one of the greatest upheavals in public administration the nation has ever seen. In April the whole of local government, the health service and the whole of the water service enter into reorganisation.
My personal view is that it was a remarkable piece of bad timing on behalf of the previous administration to manage to create such a simultaneous upheaval in these major areas of public administration and services. It is as much a tribute to the 115,000 and more people who work in these services as to central Government that they have manfully tried to make the best of it and respond to the task and challenges of reorganisation. I pay personal tribute to all those in these services—not just to the top officials, but to all those at lower levels who, over the past year or so, have had to suffer worries, anxieties and concern about their future.
At this eleventh hour it is the Government's duty to ensure that the re- 1458 organisation does work, while at the same time we give notice that we shall be looking at and reviewing a number of aspects of the reorganisation of the services. It would be wrong for us—because we argued it persuasively from the Opposition benches—to conceal our dislike for many features of the reorganisation that has taken place. When we were in Opposition we opposed bitterly, and attempted to amend, many of these aspects, none more so than the 1973 Water Act which comes into force on 1st April.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) referred to the increased water charges arising from the 1973 Act. That is one of the most bitter legacies inherited from the previous Government. I had the dubious privilege of serving on the Committee and Report stages of the Bill when we expressed in the strongest terms our objection to the nature of the reorganisation. We have tried in some cases to alleviate the worst aspects of the Act through the domestic relief grant, but I realise that that does not help everyone.
This week, my right hon. and learned Friend and I met Lord Brecon to convey to him the strength of feeling about water charges. I can report to the House that Lord Brecon suggested that he would recommend to the members of his authority that it should modify the proposed charges for 1974–75 so that in no area would the charge to metered consumers exceed 50p per thousand gallons. At present farmers and industrialists in the counties of Anglesey, Brecon and Radnor and Cardiganshire are facing the prospect of a charge of up to 60p per thousand gallons. If the water authority accepts Lord Brecon's recommendation, it will go some way towards alleviating the burden on the worst hit counties.
§ Mr. Cledwyn Hughes
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his helpful response to the appeal which the Anglesey County Council and I made to my right hon. and learned Friend. So that we may clarify the position absolutely, is my hon. Friend saying that the proposed charge of 422 per cent. on the water rate will now be decreased to 50p? What is the percentage position?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I will repeat what I said, because it is important that this should be clarified. Lord Brecon suggested that he would recommend to the members of his authority that it should modify the proposed charges for 1974–75 so that in no area would the charge to metered consumers exceed 50p per thousand gallons. These are the farmers and industrialists in the counties who are facing the prospect of a charge of up to 60p per thousand gallons. From a maximum of 60p the charge will be reduced to a maximum of 50p. I hope I have made clear that that suggestion is confined to the industrial and farming communities of those counties.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I do not know the percentage terms. We have tried to alleviate the burdens placed upon the metered consumers in these counties by an Act which we strongly opposed.
§ Mr. Peter Thomas
Is not the position that the Welsh National Water Development Authority is obliged to charge the true cost of water without the subvention that came in the past from the local authorities? There was a precept on the local authorities, a small addition for administrative costs. If the charge is reduced from 60p to 50p, who will make up the difference?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I cannot go into this in detail because Lord Brecon has not yet been able to discuss the matter with his own authority. The reduction will be covered by the savings that the water authority itself will undertake. The water authority will make savings to help to alleviate the burden placed on its most heavily hit metered consumers. That is what Lord Brecon will suggest to his authority.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth) rose—
§ Mr. Rowlands
I am sorry, but I have many points still to cover and I am afraid I cannot give way any further.
On the question of Lord Brecon and the new water authorities, the authorities had to depend on estimates carried out by existing authorities in terms of water supply and sewerage, and there was no chance to investigate in detail the strength 1460 of those estimates. There will be a review of estimates by Lord Brecon and his board in the normal course of the next financial year.
Inevitably, during this debate Kilbrandon and the establishment of an elected assembly has been raised. My right hon. Friend has spelled out the position and there is no need to add further to his strong statement of intent. However, our approach on devolution and Kilbrandon has been and is governed first and foremost by the Labour Party's belief in democracy—in the democratic control and supervision over community affairs—in all aspects of our community life. This is true not only at Welsh national level, but at all levels—that is to say, in the boardroom, on the shop floor, in the local community, and in our public services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool spoke of the sense of alienation and remoteness in the nationalised industries and this is also felt in other areas of administration. Our approach to Crowther-Kilbrandon has always emphasised the urgent need to democratise areas of public administration in Wales, for the reasons which were so well described by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool. There are areas of public administration—and indeed both private and commercial, too—where effective democratic accountability is lacking or is pitifully weak. I believe that it is in these areas that the Welsh people wish to have a greater say in and control over the decisions which so greatly affect their lives.
This point can be no better illustrated than in one of the major areas for which my right hon. and learned Friend has given me the privilege of responsibility. I refer to the health service. It was our view in Opposition—a view which I reaffirm tonight—that the reorganisation of the health service carried out by the Conservative Government did not allow for sufficient democratic and public accountability. The voice of the patient and the consumer must be heard loud and clear, and the organisation and administration of the health service should not muffle that voice. That is why in our General Election manifesto we committed ourselves to giving to an elected assembly for Wales the responsibility and the authority for the overall planning and 1461 development of the health service. Detailed study with the aim of implementing this pledge is under way.
§ Mr. Wyn Roberts
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves Kilbrandon, can he say whether he is in a position to give the assurance for which I asked—namely, that the Government have closed their mind to the possibility of attaching the Secretaryship for Wales to another Cabinet office?
§ Mr. Rowlands
This question does not arise. My right hon. and learned Friend made this clear in an intervention in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Hendon, South. In other words, he said that the position in regard to Scotland and Wales was the same. There will be a Secretary of State for Wales as an intrinsic part of our proposals on devolution.
The arguments surrounding the issue about a Welsh national assembly is that it is not only at that level that we must ensure the most effective democratic supervision of our public services, particularly of our health service. In Opposition we believed that the new area health authorities, where considerable power in all aspects of the health service is being concentrated, should be more accountable and representative. We also felt that the community health councils might be the strong voice of the consumer that they were meant to be. We intend to see that these councils will be the strong voice of the individual and of the local community in health matters.
The reviews which we are undertaking with a view to making our health service more democratic and more democratised are not meant to be just academic, administrative and organisational issues—just more paper constitutions. Behind our democratic approach there is a practical purpose. It is to ensure that the priorities and needs of the individual and of the community in health as in other services are understood fully and are met within the limits of the resources available.
There is the feeling—how justified, I am not yet in a position to judge—that there are the Cinderella services in the health service, and the former Minister of State, the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Gibson-Watt) may share that view. 1462 They are Cinderella services which in our view should be the princesses—the elderly, the handicapped and the industrially disabled. These are the seemingly unglamorous features of the health service, and they contrast with the headline-catching operations.
§ Mr. Alec Jones
My hon. Friend knows of my interest in the rehabilitation of those who have suffered industrial injury. Under the existing law, will it be possible to set up a special area health authority to deal with Talygarn?
§ Mr. Rowlands
With a number of others, my hon. Friend has taken a special interest in Talygarn and the problem of industrial rehabilitation. Indeed, they led a deputation to my hon. and learned Friend's predecessor, from whom they received sympathy but no action——
§ Mr. Rowlands
I agree that there was a little action. However, my hon. Friend has raised a specific point, and I confirm that certainly it will be possible for the Secretary of State to exercise powers under the Act to create a special health authority after 1st April. Therefore, the fact that the area health authority comes into force on 1st April does not preclude any new initiatives on Talygarn and the industrial rehabilitation services in Wales. I hope to make a further announcement about this matter very soon.
It is again my privilege to return to the Welsh Office and to be responsible in the Department for derelict land and environmental issues. I pay tribute to the work done by previous Governments to clear derelict land and to improve the environment. It is a responsibility which I accept gladly. I serve a community such as Dowlais which is ringed by tips, swept by smoke and pounded by lorries. Residents of the area do not need reports or experts to tell them what is wrong with the environment. It is impossible to hide 3,000 acres of derelict land in one borough.
It is a matter of great regret that the public expenditure cuts made by the Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer before the election bore heavily on the derelict land programme, which was cut 1463 from £3.2 million to £2 million. Inevitably this means that there must be some sort of rationing. Action was taken before we came to power. But, to help us, local authorities have been asked to submit their derelict land priorities. I have asked them to submit them as a matter of urgency because I wish to announce shortly a new five-year derelict land clearance programme.
I mention one other aspect of environmental pollution. The offensive against visual damage to the environment is only one part of the battle. We have to fight against pollution in all its many forms, and we are quite as committed as the former administration to maintaining that offensive.
We can all see and smell atmospheric pollution in our different areas, and one has only to talk to anglers to recognise the public concern at the state of our rivers. I have a river in my constituency where the trout leap out of the water coughing with silicosis. I gather that the birds in Port Talbot wake up in the mornings coughing because of the smoke and fumes surrounding some of our communities.
We shall, with equal urgency, reintroduce a revised and amended Environment Protection Bill similar to the one that was before the House prior to the election. That measure will be designed to extend the existing controls over air and water pollution and over noise and waste disposal. Apart from that, the work of the Environment Protection Unit, established by our predecessors—we acknowledge their work in this respect—will continue and grow in strength.
It is unfortunate that, again as a result of economic circumstances which existed long before 28th February and which were created by the previous Government, public expenditure cuts in many areas have borne heavily on matters concerning pollution of our environment. It is unfortunate that the cuts previously made on local authority capital expenditure will affect our drive on the environment and the crucial services in the matter of sewerage and sewage disposal. These cuts will bring about the deferment of schemes which were designed to improve the conditions of rivers and coastal waters. Wales has a multitude of rivers and a tremendous area of coastline, both 1464 of which are of almost incalculable value not only to those who live in Wales, but to holidaymakers. I pledge that all my personal energies, having been given responsibility for derelict land and environmental issues, will be directed towards the major environmental issues facing Wales.
Perhaps I may end on a personal note. I came into the House in 1966 as the youngest Member. I have fought four parliamentary elections in eight years. I was 6 ft. 2 ins, tall when I started. There is talk of another election, which would be my fifth, this year. However, I assure the hon. Member for Pembroke that my right hon. and hon. Friends are keen and eager to have a go if that is his wish.
It is a great honour for any hon. Member representing a Welsh constituency to serve in the Welsh Office in whatever capacity it may be, as two former Ministers opposite will testify. It is sobering to think that the Welsh Office will be celebrating its tenth anniversary this coming October.
There have been critical analyses of the rôle of the Welsh Office over the last decade. Indeed, I wrote one myself. However, I now affirm that the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh Office have done a tremendous amount for Wales and ensured that its people have had a greater say and are better served than they were before the establishment of the office in 1964. My Under-Secretary colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) and I, under our Secretary of State, hope that we shall be able to continue the fine traditional service to Wales by Ministers who have served in this office.
§ Mr. Donald Coleman (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.