HC Deb 12 November 1975 vol 899 cc1611-28

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

I should like to look beyond the immediate problems of unemployment, inflation and the cut-back in public services in Wales to the future of economic and political structures in the Principality.

First, concerning economic structures in Wales, by far the most important development in this Session has been the creation of the Welsh Development Agency. It has been welcomed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. But the big question which remains is this—if it is an Agency, what are the goals at which it is aiming? Is there a coherent strategy behind the Agency setting out the particular targets? If the targets, the goals, are unclear, the methods for achievement will be unclear. There is no evidence which I can see of any coherent plan. I suggest that a considerable degree of thought needs to be given to a plan for the Principality for the next quarter of a century.

The basic facts are already known. We know, for example, the number of school leavers in the Principality in 1990. We know the scale of environmental dereliction and what needs to be done in that context. We need to co-ordinate groupings of industry in a more coherent and planned way. We need constellations of industry in the same broad area. We need a plan to get industries downstream from major manufacturing units. For example, we need to get downstream the aluminium manufacturing industry in North Wales and our steel manufacturing industry in South Wales. I look in vain for any coherent strategy which will indicate to the Welsh Development Agency its goals over the years to come. So much for the broader economic structures.

I make one brief comment only on the steel debate which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Davies). Unfortunately, the debate has been bedevilled, even in this House, by the confrontation between Shotton and Port Talbot. The case for Port Talbot stands on its own. It depends on the international market for steel products and on the competitiveness of the United Kingdom's steel industry in the world as a whole. The delay has been costly, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist). There are substantial social effects in both North and South Wales. If this country is to be in business—the Prime Minister's theme at the Lord Mayor's banquet—we must build on the kind of success which we see in Port Talbot with its locational and industrial base advantages.

The delay which has taken place has in many ways harmed Wales in the sense that the demand figures for steel production have now been scaled down. That portion of the cake which has been allocated leaves an even smaller portion for allocation between the various Welsh claims which are yet to come. But let us have a decision soon on steel investment in Port Talbot for Britain's sake.

I turn now to the future political structure. Here I follow the hon. Member for Cardiff, North. The view of many Welsh Members is that over past months the mood in Wales has swung substantially against devolution. Clearly, it is premature, in advance of the White Paper and the many opportunities of which we shall no doubt take advantage, to go at length into the whole question of devolution. But there is a substantial groundswell in the Welsh people as a whole and in the Welsh Labour movement. As a party and Government, we refuse to acknowledge that groundswell at our peril.

Many Welsh people fear that this is a staging post on the way to total separatism. They fear that they cannot meet the groundswell against bureaucracy by the creation of yet another layer of bureaucracy, particularly when the experience of local government is proving so disquieting in Wales.

There is also the feeling that, like it or not, we are being pulled along in the groundswell behind Scotland. Scotland may have its own special problems. We ask only that Wales be looked at on its own merits and in relation to the views of the Welsh people on this problem.

I would search in vain for many separatists in my constituency. My own correspondence and, I gather, that of other hon. Members from all parts of Wales reflects that growing feeling that the Welsh people are now waking up and asking questions which have not been asked before and which, as yet, have not been answered.

We ignore the views on the Welsh people at our peril. If we go ahead willy-nilly without taking heed of their views, I fear for the future within Wales.

7.28 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)

I thank the Government for providing time for this resumed debate on Welsh affairs. It would be churlish to dwell on the Government's original reluctance to provide adequate time. I prefer to pay tribute to them for their prompt response to our criticism and Early-Day Motion No. 710. As a result, we have had a good and worthwhile debate.

Not surprisingly, the issue of devolution and a devolved Assembly has been raised. This subject will be increasingly discussed in the next few months. I agree with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) that so far not many people in Wales have considered this topic seriously in depth.

On the subject of proposed devolution, I make two appeals which I consider to be in the best interests of the people of the Principality. I appeal to the media for accuracy in the reporting of information and a sense of perspective in the emphasis given to devolution. Listening to the BBC or HTV or reading the Western Mail, one can be forgiven for forming the impression that devolution and a devolved Assembly are the burning topics of conversation in Wales. That is not so. When we congregate outside our churches and chapels after Sunday service the devolved Assembly hardly gets a mention. In the clubs and coffee houses devolution does not dominate the conversation. It is very low down on the agenda in Wales; so low that for the vast majority it is never reached, and until now it has been a very damp squib indeed.

Although some people—and I recognise this—have been debating devolution with relish and enthusiasm for years, the Welsh people have not spoken on this matter yet. No doubt they will, and when they do it will be with a clear voice.

It is important that the debate in the Principality is conducted fairly and without rancour.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

In view of the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Assembly, with which I totally agree, may I ask whether the Conservative Party has considered whether the issue should be decided by a referendum in view of the fact that so many parts of Wales clearly wish to express an opinion? It is an opinion that will undoubtedly lead to the rejection of the view that there should be a form of devolution, which could lead to separatism.

Mr. Roberts

I have never considered a referendum to be the only way in which people can make their views known. Indeed, I opposed the referendum earlier this year when it was put to the House.

Of the Western Mail I would say that the least we can expect, as it treats devolution as a matter of prime importance, is that it will do its homework and get its facts right. As recently as a fortnight ago, in a major feature entitled "Count Down on Devolution", the paper listed with photographs, all the members of the Labour Party and stated, ex cathedra, where they stood on devolution. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) was depicted as a strong supporter of devolution and the paper ominously reported that "he would probably go further". I have always thought that the hon. Member for Caerphilly would go further, but I never thought that he would go in that direction, and I gather from tonight's debate that I am right. I have no doubt that, unfortunately, my appeal to the media to report accurately will fall on deaf ears. They will continue to project their prejudices, and the Welsh people will continue to ignore their conclusions.

I hope, however, that my appeal to the hon. Member for Caernarvon—I informed him that I would raise this matter in today's debate, but he told me that he could not be present—to show some generosity and a little humility will not be rejected out of hand. The hon. Gentleman castigates, in grossly immoderate terms, all those who do not share his particular and minority views on Wales. He and his party show no understanding of those who think of themselves as British as well as Welsh. He said the other day that "we disgust him". I can only say that I am sorry that he finds so many of his countrymen disgusting. For hundreds of thousands of Welshmen—I believe the vast majority of them—great British institutions, such as the Palace of Westminster as the seat of Government, are thought of with affection and determined loyalty. That Plaid Cymru cannot recognise that this fundamental fact shows how remote it is from the majority of the people of Wales. A reasonable response from Plaid Cymru would ensure a much fairer and better debate, and I hope that its members will show themselves big enough to measure up to events.

On the subject of devolution, I have one further observation to make. The Labour Party is clearly divided on this issue. There is nothing dishonourable in such division. It is, however, perhaps ironic to reflect that most of those who beavered away enthusiastically in 1970, 1971 and 1972 and committed the Parliamentary Labour Party to the policy that it now supports are no longer with us. It could be said that those who sold the pass lost their seats.

I do not believe that the Welsh people have yet spoken on devolution. He would be a rash person indeed who would assume that there will be an overwhelming demand for any sort of Assembly at all.

Mr. Wigley

On the question of having any sort of Assembly at all, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether the Conservative Party still stands by the policy which it advocated a short time ago and which the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) projected on television a week last Monday night, namely, to have an indirectly-elected Assembly, and not a directly-elected one?

Mr. Roberts

At the General Election we said that we stood for an indirectly-elected council which would be there in an advisory capacity. I think that as the debate continues the people of Wales will tell us exactly what they want and I am sure that we, as politicians, will take note of their demands.

I want to say a brief word about education and refer to the way in which our comprehensive schools have developed in Wales over the past few years. I pay tribute to the enormous achievements of those schools and to the teachers who have worked so hard to achieve so much. They have come under considerable strain, not least the strain that has been imposed upon them by the raising of the school leaving age. It would be foolish to ignore the fact that one pupil in six plays truant in our major industrial conurbations, and I suspect that that is an understatement of the true position.

I believe that there is one way in which our comprehensive schools could be improved enormously, and that is if they were reduced in size. I think that this is probably the last opportunity that we are likely to get to make these schools, which, after all, are part of our pattern of education in South, North and Mid-Wales, work effectively. The opportunity comes with the falling of the birth rate. Figures for ILEA show that it will have 2,600 spare places for its children in 1977 because of a declining population. In Cardiff, a survey carried out by the director of the former Cardiff authority shows that admissions will drop from 4,631 in 1976 to 3,504 in 1984, a drop of more than 20 per cent.

What I am afraid will happen is that where a whole new area is developed, instead of developing a comprehensive school for that area to serve that neighbourhood, to serve that community, vacant places in adjoining areas will be used and children will be bussed out to another area. This is not an attack on the principle of bussing. What I am urging on the Minister is that if we can use this opportunity of a declining birthrate to establish smaller comprehensive schools we shall be grasping the chance to make those schools work more effectively. I believe that this will probably be our last opportunity so to do.

Finally, I turn to the economic outlook facing the Principality. Reference has been made to advance factories—and the Secretary of State for Wales referred to this matter on 23rd October. On that occasion the Secretary of State announced 22 new advance factories, but refused to respond to an intervention asking how many existing factories were empty. It is a sad reflection of the situation when we discover the number of such factories that are empty. Three factories have been empty since 1973—one from 1971 and two from 1970. Nineteen of the 26 factories standing empty today have been empty throughout 1975.

Negotiations are taking place to find tenants for nine of those factories, and we all hope that the news will be favourable so that as a result the number of vacancies will drop considerably. However, empty factories stand as a silent stricture on the Government's economic policy. It is no good people saying, "Because we are building advance factories, all is well with the Principality". It does not solve our problems when those factories stand empty. The list covers the whole of the Principality, including Pembroke Dock and Llandrindod Wells.

The economic picture that faces the Principality is grim, and it was fairly summarised in the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower). Industrial production has fallen to the level of 1967 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) pointed out, after 19 months of Labour Government we have the production of a two-day week achieved in five. When proper consideration has been given to the effects of world recession, when due recognition has been made of the international problems facing the Government, it is hardly a success story for the Secretary of State. His period of office has witnessed an alarming decline in Welsh industry and the strength of the Welsh economy.

I wish briefly to refer to how this decline has affected people in Wales. I wish first to refer to the small business men—the self-employed. Wales has a large number of small manufacturing businesses, small retail businesses, corner shops and men and women engaged in service industries. They make an enormous contribution to the economy and the quality of life of the people of Wales. Today those people, who make such a large contribution to their communities, consider themselves to be under siege. They face high rates, multi-rate VAT—

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Alec Jones)

The Tories introduced it.

Mr. Roberts

They also face increased pension contributions and other burdens that threaten to squeeze them out of existence. I have not attempted to blame any one Government for the situation. I believe that the people concerned feel that they are under siege and are threatened by all these problems, including the imposition of capital transfer tax. When trade unionists take industrial action the Labour Party tends, and rightly so, to look with understanding at the cause of their grievances. The self-employed are not normally militant in our society, but they are up in arms at the present situation. I hope that the Government will look with understanding at those people who are victims of inflation. I hope that remedial measures will be taken before irreparable damage is done to those people and to the people who work for them. If no action is taken, they will swell still further the ranks of the unemployed.

Finally, I should like to say something about the unemployment problem in Wales. We have not since 1946 suffered such unemployment as we are now experiencing. There were 70,000 unemployed in Wales in the month of October, and that is a huge sum in terms of human degradation and misery and of lost potential and opportunity. For the school leaver without a job it is a depressing and dangerous frustrating introduction to adult life. I shall spare Labour Members by not quoting the words they used against the Conservative Government when those Members were in Opposition and when much lower unemployment figures afflicted the Principality. But however loud their protestations of horror and revulsion at unemployment, they cannot evade their responsibility in part for the unemployment we now suffer.

We must remember the Prime Minister's words in "A Policy for Survival": One man's pay rise is not only another man's price rise: it might also cost him his own job—or his neighbour's job. The Prime Minister's words did not achieve validity on the day on which that document was published. Those words represent an economic truth that had validity throughout the period of the wage bonanza, fuelled for party political purposes by the Labour Party. To that extent the Labour Party is directly responsible for some of the unemployment in Wales. The people of Wales will see that it is made to accept its responsibilities.

7.48 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Barry Jones)

I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) that we have had an informed and reasoned debate. I thought that the hon. Gentleman, possibly for reasons of time, was uncharacteristically restrained tonight. When he seeks to lay strictures upon the Government's record over a period of 19 months, I must retort that I regard that record as a good one. I think that we took on a miserable inheritance from the previous Government and, what is more, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has under his belt the Welsh Development Agency and the Land Authority for Wales.

The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower)—who apologised to me for having to leave before the end of the debate—mentioned in a thoughtful speech the arrangement of business in the House. The House knows that those arrangements are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, and the delay on 23rd October was a most creditable delay, since the debate followed proceedings on the Welsh Development Agency Bill which was before this House for 36 hours in all. Furthermore, we have also debated the Welsh provisions of the Community Land Bill and have attended a detailed programme of Welsh Grand Committee meetings—by my reckoning five such meetings. On only one occasion since the change of Government has the time allocated to Welsh Oral Questions been insufficient. That is surely a sufficient reply to the hon. Member for Barry and also to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) who raised some sincere matters in this connection.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty mentioned the Rosedale Industries. I said that I hoped to answer his query. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) has also mentioned this matter. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that this situation has now been resolved. Lin Pac Containers Ltd., a group based in Lincolnshire but already operating two factories at Cwmbran, is acquiring the Bedwas and Crumlin undertakings, and the Government will be providing financial assist- ance under the provisions of of Section 7 of the Industry Act.

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)

Will the Under-Secretary accept that the whole community in North Gwent will be most grateful for what he has just said?

Mr. Jones

I am grateful for that interventon. The Government will provide financial assistance under the provisions of Section 7 of the Industry Act. I want to pay tribute to all who have been involved in achieving this welcome outcome, in particular, to the efforts which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Abertillery, in whose constituencies the two plants are located. They fought like tigers for their constituents' jobs. I am sure that many families in those areas who were worried are now relieved.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty made a cry about the refurbishment of the former Corah factory at Aberbargoed. I shall write to him with the information on this as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) devoted some of his remarks to North Wales, an area that, like him, I know well. Some parts I know better, and in other parts I have a better welcome. Not many months after we had been in office a large area of Gwynedd was upgraded to special development area status. We have also sharply increased the rate of regional employment premium, which was of substantial benefit to all development and special development areas, in our efforts to combat the evils of unemployment.

Despite the shortage of resources for the health service, we have been determined to preserve the place of the Bangor District General Hospital in the building programme. This is a £12 million scheme. Tenders for the first phase have now been invited, with a closing date of mid-November. It is hoped that building will begin early in 1976. This information will be useful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), as well as to other hon. Members in the area.

We are pressing ahead with the Britannia Bridge scheme for a second road crossing of the Menai, and it is hoped that work on the approach roads will commence next spring.

North Wales has done well out of the major advance factory programmes we have announced since coming into office. Including the announcements made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, on 23rd October, no fewer than 16 advance factories, amounting to 205,000 sq. ft. in all, have been allocated to a variety of locations in North Wales. Advance purchase of land for possible future factory construction is being undertaken at Caernarvon, Llandegai, Llanrwst and Rhyl. Nine Development Commission factories, totalling 34,000 sq. ft. have also been allocated at Penrhyndeudraeth, Bala, Machynlleth, Tywyn and Blaenau Ffestiniog. This is no mean record, given the nature and difficulties of these times.

Hon. Members representing North Wales constituencies may be interested in the Dinorwic CEGB pumped storage scheme. This important project, which already provides employment for 780 people of whom over 70 per cent. are local, has a long history. I remind the House of the able sponsorship of the North Wales Hydro Electric Power Bill by the then hon. Member for Caernarvon, now Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and by others of my hon. Friends, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey.

As has been reported in the Press, the CEGB has asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy for his approval for the next stage of the work. There are a number of detailed matters to be resolved, but my right hon. Friend is dealing with them urgently, as he is as conscious as I am of the importance of the project. There is certainly no threat to its future.

Mr. Wigley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this part of the contract has now been waiting in the Department for seven weeks to be cleared? Under the Act of 1919, which is incorporated into the 1973 Act, it is normally cleared in three to four weeks. There is grave concern in Llanberis, because jobs may be threatened, due to this delay. Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the delay will not be for much longer?

Mr. Jones

I have said that the business is being tackled urgently.

I turn to the steel industry in Wales, because the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Myer), my hon. Friends the Members for Gower (Mr. Davies) and Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the hon and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) have all made contributions on this important topic for Wales.

I know that many hon. Members—no one more than myself—are anxious to see the vitally important issue of the British Steel Corporation's plans for Port Talbot and Shotton resolved. It is, however, because of its very importance, and the concern which is felt about the social and economic consequences for North-East Wales of any cessation of steel-making at Shotton, that the Government have been determined to undertake a thorough study of all the factors involved before coming to a decision.

For this reason my noble Friend the Minister of State for Industry, Lord Beswick, decided in August to ask the BSC to prepare a full evaluation of the proposal which had been put forward for the installation of a new steelmaking plant at Shotton with a capacity of 1.8 million tonnes per annum. Lord Beswick has now received the BSC's reply, and it is under consideration. It has been made available to the trade unions at Shotton, and they will be given a further opportunity to put their own views forward.

I cannot say definitely when a decision will be reached, but a number of hon. Members will know that Lord Beswick recently repeated to the West Wales Steel Development Committee his hope that this would be possible by the end of the year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty mentioned coal. Some concern has been expressed about the degree of stocking of coal in South Wales and at the two North Wales pits.

Although the demand from the CEGB for South Wales coal has been low, the current level of stocks of all coals in South Wales, including stocks at power stations, is generally lower than in 1974 or 1973. Welsh power stations are, of course, specially designed to burn Welsh coal because of its low volatility. Experiments have, however, taken place in burning Welsh coal at a power station in England, namely, Fiddlers Ferry, which was not specially designed for this. The results with South Wales coal were not regarded as satisfactory, and the CEGB has no plans for continuing with this.

Queries have been raised recently about the extent of the underground reserves of coal at Point of Air, in North Wales. On this, I understand that the known reserves are regarded as adequate for some years, and an investigation is now taking place near Talacre to establish whether there are more extensive reserves. The drilling that is now taking place in the area is to establish the fault pattern, and is part of the normal programme of research and exploration.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East and the hon. Member for Cardiff, North spoke in detail on devolution. So, also, did the hon. Member for Flint, West, who made a sharp flick or two. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Evans) let fly a strong and typical blast in the direction of these devolution proposals. It is good to see him back in the Chamber, in good health and taking part very obviously in all our debates. I would point out, however, that the Government do not exactly agree with the statements that he makes about devolution. I am sure that the House will not expect me to go into detail tonight on this subject because in the very near future the Government will be presenting a White Paper setting out our detailed proposals for Wales and for Scotland. I am deeply aware of the great interest which hon. Members in all parts of the House take in this very important subject, but I do not think that at this stage in this Session it would be for me to go into greater details.

The hon. Member for Merioneth put some rather suspicious questions about housing. He knows that I have not the time to make the full response I should like to make to him and other hon. Members. However, he should know that as a result of the announcement on 31st October, by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the injection of an additional £30 million to alleviate unemployment in the construction industry—of which the Welsh share is £2.5 million—it has now been possible to permit a limited relaxation. The money will all be applied to improvement work, half going to local authority houses and half to the private sector. In selecting this as our priority, we had in mind that improvement work is labour-intensive, so that the greatest possible benefit will be secured in employment terms.

In the public sector, local authorities have, in consequence, received fresh allocations for council house improvements, or, in certain cases, major repair work. These cover the period to 31st March 1977 and will be supplemented from 1st April next by normal allocations, which we shall be able to make for the 1976–77 financial year.

I can tell the hon. Member for Merioneth that we are already well advanced in discussions with the Council for the Principality on the way in which our resources for 1976–77 should be applied. Obviously, the money must go to the areas of greatest need.

As regards privately-owned houses, the additional money which is to become available has been allocated so that local authorities will now be able to resume a limited amount of lending to cover that part of the cost of improvement work which is left after payment of grant. These grants take care of 50 per cent. of the cost, but this still leaves a substantial sum for the householder to find. Many have to look to their local authority to help them with a loan.

The housing action areas programme is going ahead quietly and effectively. So far, 16 housing action areas, containing 5,784 dwellings, have been declared by 12 local authorities. The actual levels of new house building—the most crucial element of all—show a marked improvement, with over 11,000 new houses being provided in Wales this year. I say, therefore, that the record of the Welsh Office is more than good in this sector of activity.

The hon. Member for Merioneth and the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West both raised the subject of education. I have little time to take up the points made by the Opposition spokesman about the raising of the school leaving age and about truancy, which in themselves, perhaps, would form the subjects of debates for many hours. As a Department, however, we have maintained a very substan- tial programme. We have allocated about £33 million for the years 1974–77, and the bulk of the expenditure this year is in the secondary sector. There is to be a new secondary school for Mynydd Isa, and major extensions at Hawarden High School, in the county of Clwyd. There is a further instalment of the new Bodedern Secondary School in Gwynedd. There is to be a new secondary school in Bishopston, in West Glamorgan, and a major extension to the Llanharri bilingual secondary school in Glamorgan.

The major priority in Wales is the 100 per cent. comprehensive secondary schooling system. We are now proud to say that already 84 per cent. of our children are educated in secondary schools which are comprehensive. Moreover, the Government, to indicate their commitment to comprehensive schooling, have allocated specifically, for the first time, £2 million for secondary school building.

In another sector, many children suffer a mental or physical handicap. As a Government, we refuse to neglect these children; nor shall we disregard the real worries and the cares of their parents. It is a matter of real regret to me that this sector has been overlooked in years gone by and that we have considerable leeway to make up. For the years 1974–77, the Government have committed £3 million for special allocations for special schools in Wales. In the current financial year we have allocated £1¼ million for the nursery schools programme.

The hon. Member for Flint, West, the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and the hon. Member for Merioneth raised matters concerning the National Health Service in Wales. I have but very limited time to reply to their serious questions. We may face a nil growth situation. We run the health service in Wales for the benefit of the consumer, but we are being driven deeper and deeper into the anguished argument about priorities. There will have to be careful but very painful adjustments, but in working these out we must never lose sight of our manifesto commitments. We shall safeguard provision for the elderly—those aged over 75—and we shall continue to care for the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, who, in the generations gone by, have never had anything approaching a fair deal. It is our intention to commission the new hospitals at Rhyl, Withybush and Merthyr.

Some would say that the health service in Wales may be reaching the point of collapse, but that statement runs far ahead of the Welsh evidence. The position in Wales is not as bad as it is sometimes made out to be, possibly because of the tradition, in the valleys, of social service and helping one's neighbour.

Our opponents may care to present a catalogue of difficulties. Problems there certainly are, yet they are not problems of our making, as a Government. We have run into them, but we have shown that we do not intend to run away from them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gower implied in his wise speech, a Government cannot change conditions overnight when those conditions are in part a product of our dependent relationship with the world economy and in part the product of past under-investment in industrial capacity. I think that we must now take steps to establish a strong economic base upon which we can build a society in which men and women in Wales can enjoy the fullness of life. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty that this is what the Government are doing by directing savings into industry in order to create a strengthened economy based on the efficient use of our resources of people and of skills. I claim that the Government have achieved considerable support in Wales for their policy, and that the people of Wales, and, in particular, the people of our older industrial townships, know that there is no practical alternative.

The ends which this policy seeks to achieve cannot be secured at a stroke. Neither can they be achieved without constraints elsewhere. Wealth must be created before it can be spent, and if industry must be a first charge on our savings for the years immediately ahead, it follows that the increased industrial budget must grow at the expense of other budgets. This we accept.

I understand that distinguished visitors are approaching, and I am coming to the conclusion of my remarks. The importance of the Government's industrial policy is very real in its direct effects for the whole community and as the express condition permitting the achievement of social aims at a later stage. It is very encouraging that at Chequers last week, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower said, the TUC and the CBI gave their endorsement to the Government's broad approach to these crucial issues. We, as a Government, have set our faces against the introduction of economic policies that do not have a wide measure of support from those on both sides of industry on whom rests the main task of seeing that such policies succeed. Political leadership in a democracy is about consent—

Mr. Hooson

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not conclude his remarks without dealing with agriculture, which is vitally important.

Mr. Jones

I am always happy to respond to interventions that are well intended, and on time. I have taken particular interest in the problems of dairy farming in Wales, as I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman does in a constituency such as his. We have recently taken action to assist the milk producers, and in doing so we have had to have regard to the overriding priority of bringing inflation under control. Nevertheless we should not lose sight of the fact that the guaranteed price of milk has been increased five times since the Government took office 20 months ago. It had then been fixed at an average of 26.27p per gallon for 1974–75, and the average price for the whole of the 1975–76 period is now 37.04p per gallon.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Will my hon. Friend explain to the House in greater detail the importance of increasing investment in industry in Wales to ensure the potential that we want to harness in the future?

Mr. Jones

Perhaps my hon. Friend would first allow me to conclude my remarks on dairy farming—although, in any event, I fear that I am about to be interrupted by distinguished visitors.

As I was saying, political leadership in a democracy is about consent. We should never lose sight of this fact, as our predecessors sometimes seem to do.

In a moment, I suspect, we shall hear a knocking on the door of this honour- able House, It is appropriate that a Welsh debate should end this Session of Parliament, to which Welsh Members have contributed throughout the Session and, indeed, throughout history. I have good reason to believe, Mr. Speaker, that you yourself, as a Welshman, in the Chair and out of it, have made sterling contributions to this House over the years. Wales is pre-eminent in its contribution to the well-being of the United Kingdom.

Forward to