HC Deb 23 October 1975 vol 898 cc738-92
Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, after 'Agency', insert: 'which shall be responsible to the Secretary of State'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this amendment we shall take Amendment No. 29, in Clause 2, page 4, line 28, at end insert: '(11) For the avoidance of doubt it is hereby declared that nothing in this Act shall be construed as an impediment to the transfer of responsibility from the Agency to a Welsh National Assembly when such a body has been established; and such a transfer may be undertaken by order'.

Mr. Edwards

I say at the outset that we do not wish to press Amendment No. 1 to a Division. It is tabled to give the House an opportunity to debate an important matter. However, we shall await the answer on Amendment No. 29 before we make a final decision about a vote.

The object of the amendment is simple. It gives the Government an opportunity, before the House gives the Bill a Third Reading, to clarify their intentions on a vital matter—namely, the relationship of the Agency with the Secretary of State and with Parliament. Throughout our proceedings Ministers have justified the wide powers of appointment and direction given to the Secretary of State on the grounds that, after all, the Secretary of State is responsible to Parliament and his actions can be probed, examined and criticised in this place. In short, we have been told that the Agency will, through the Secretary of State, be answerable to Parliament. That is the basis on which the Bill has been presented at each stage—on Second Reading and clause by clause in Committee. It is on that basis that hon. Members have judged the Bill and cast their votes.

In the light of what has been said again and again by Ministers, one would have thought that there could be no scintilla of doubt that the Government have nothing else in mind, have dismissed any other possibility and are firmly committed to the proposition that Parliament is to be responsible for the powers given by the Bill. Yet a doubt remains, because at the end of August this report appeared in the Western Mail, written by John Osmond, its Welsh affairs correspondent: The Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. John Morris, has given the Welsh Labour Party executive an assurance that the Welsh Development Agency will eventually be responsible to the Welsh Assembly.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

Let me put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery immediately. I am in no way responsible for what that correspondent writes, and I gave no assurance to anybody at any stage about what eventually will emerge in our devolution package.

Mr. Edwards

That is a very helpful intervention from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but he has dealt with the question negatively. Perhaps one can ask him to go further and deal with the matter positively. The newspaper report went on to say: During the Committee Stage of the Agency Bill…it was said no reference could be made to the assembly since it was not yet in existence. I welcome the Secretary of State's categoric statement that no such assurance has been given—

Mr. Morris

I gave no assurance to anybody on any point.

Mr. Edwards

That is extremely welcome, but we still face the situation that in the next day or so the Cabinet is to consider a White Paper which will be brought before the House within the next month. Therefore, I believe that at this stage we are entitled to a more positive undertaking. Surely by now the Government must know their intentions. The Secretary of State is no longer dealing with hypothetical questions but is dealing with specific matters. He is dealing with the question of whether the Government in preparing their plans should transfer responsibilities in this respect to the Assembly. Is this a possibility? Indeed, is it being put in the draft of a White Paper? The right hon. Gentleman knows whether it is, and he can tell us. He has not been shy about keeping us informed of other Government ideas.

There is no reason why the Secretary of State should not tell us whether he has this possibility in mind. If he has, he cannot proceed with the Bill as it stands. It would be an intolerable affront to the House, a constitutional outrage, if he asked us to pass a Bill based upon a series of specific undertakings when all the time he knew that something quite different was in draft and would be placed before the House in a matter of weeks. It would be a contract obtained by false pretences; we should have an Act which was the outcome of a fraudulent procedure. I am not going too far in saying that.

4.30 p.m.

At the Committee's second sitting, the Under-Secretary of State said: Responsibility should lie with the Secretary of State because he is responsible to the House, where hon. Members can question and press him on these issues."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 10th July 1975; c. 66.] At the third sitting the hon. Gentleman said: The NEB and the agency are responsible to the Secretaries of State, but both are members of the Cabinet. The WDA and the NEB will operate within the framework of an overall economic strategy agreed by the Cabinet within its collective responsibility."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 15th July 1975; c. 120.] There are three crucial quotations from the sixth sitting. At column 289 the Under-Secretary of State said: The Welsh Development Agency will have wide terms of reference, with a diverse range of functions and what I hope may well turn out to be a pioneering rôle in many areas. The agency will have considerable sums of public money at its disposal and will, in the course of its work, be involved in sensitive matters affecting industry and employment. The agency's impact on the economy of Wales will, we hope, be substantial. That is the purpose of the whole exercise. It is desirable therefore, in our view, that the Secretary of State, as the Minister responsible for economic planning in Wales, should be able to exercise both general and specific control. At column 290 the Under-Secretary of State said: The Secretary of State will be accountable to Parliament for the issue of, or indeed the failure to issue, such directions…". At column 293 he said: We believe that we have taken fully into account the desire expressed in the Committee this morning and in another place that the Secretary of State should be accountable to Parliament for the directions he gives. We have tried to provide a reasonable means of doing so, to ensure as far as is practicable that Parliament shall have the opportunity to ensure that when the Secretary of Stale exercises his powers of general or specific direction, those powers should be open to the watchful eye of the House."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 23rd July 1975; c. 289–93.] At the seventh sitting the Under-Secretary of State said: I believe that we are making the right proposals and that the Secretary of State must retain the final responsibility, as the agency will be a major tool for carrying out Government policies. Dealing with the question of the membership of the Agency, the Under-Secretary of State said: This is why we are trying to marry and balance between the requirement of a substantial measure of independence for the Welsh Development Agency—the other side has to be borne in mind—and the right degree of accountability to the Secretary of State for Wales and, through him, to the House of Commons."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 24th July 1975; c. 328, 330.] There is a series of other references to accountability to the House of Commons.

It is abundantly clear that the Government have sought to persuade Parliament to accept the Bill on the understanding that the Agency will be responsible to the Secretary of State and to no other body. I am therefore fully justified in demanding that the Secretary of State should give us a categorical assurance that it is not the Government's intention to transfer these powers to an Agency, that they are not drafting a White Paper which contains proposals to do so and that it is not their intention to include such proposals in the devolution Bill to be presented next Session.

Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to prevent the Welsh people from controlling the Agency through their own elected Assembly, but will he give us a glimpse into his thinking about the way in which he thinks that the Assembly, in those circumstances, could have any effective rôle in dealing with such matters as unemployment and employment and the development of industry and the economy in Wales?

Mr. Edwards

I am not dealing with the question of the rôle of the Assembly. I am dealing with the specific commitments given by Ministers about the Agency's accountability to Parliament. I suspect that we shall have only too many opportunities to deal with the wider issues raised by the hon. Gentleman.

If the Secretary of State cannot or will not give an assurance of the sort for which I have asked, he has no right to ask us to give the Bill a Third Reading, because a transfer of power to an Assembly would involve rewriting the greater part of the Bill, altering its whole character and changing the concept upon which it is based.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

The language of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) would normally be judged by myself and, I am sure, by many others as being extravagant and over-dramatic and having little relevance to the matter under consideration. But this is an unusual occasion. Not only have we been told about assurances, which the Secretary of State says are spurious, which he would never be so ill advised as to give the Welsh Labour Party, but we well know that deep thought is being given by Cabinet Ministers to the question of devolution. Therefore, although normally I would dismiss the hon. Member's speech as being over-emphatic and over-determined, I think that on this occasion he is not being unreasonable in asking the Secretary of State for an assurance.

This Bill is important to my constituency, as it is to all Welsh constituencies. It will do much for economic planning in Wales, and my constituents will expect me to be ever vigilant in scrutinising the decisions which will be made. If there were any suggestion within the Bill of any devolution of power to any outside body which might be in contemplation, it would totally disrupt the legislation.

It is abundantly clear from Clause 12(4) that if the Secretary of State exercises a function contrary to any recommendation made by the Welsh Industrial Development Advisory Board he shall…lay a statement before the House. That is an important subsection because it means that we shall be able to challenge any decision made by the Secretary of State. I can imagine no greater mischief than that decisions should be taken by any outside assemblies over which hon. Members would have no control and concerning which we could not effectively challenge any of the decisions that were made.

I am well aware that the hon. Member for Pembroke has undoubtedly put forward his amendment in the midst of an ambience in Wales of growing concern, which, I hope, will be alleviated or resolved within a short time.

My constituency will shortly have the honour, through its major, to receive you. Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the Secretary of State. If my right hon. and learned Friend came to Pontypool he would find that there was a wide-ranging spectrum of opinion on the question of any devolution of powers, including those concerning the Welsh Development Agency. Those opinions range from profound scepticism to profound antagonism. I do not believe that the Secretary of State would find any other sort of opinion. He is not unaware of the feelings which exist. We read in the Western Mail that he has had the opportunity of attending another dinner where the Glamorgan County Council, through the leader of its Labour group, made abundantly clear the degree of scepticism which exists in the industrial valleys of Wales towards any suggestion that there should be devolution of the kind that is apparently canvassed in some areas.

When there is so much evidence of concern and alarm in the industrial valleys of South Wales it is natural that the people living in those areas, who are probably affected more than anybody else by the positive benefits which emerge in the splendid Bill, want to be certain that the control will remain in the good hands of the Secretary of State for Wales and that it will remain in his hands because it will remain for us to be constantly invigilating what he does.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Does the hon. Gentleman maintain that this deep disillusion with devolution extends to the Rhymney Valley?

Mr. Abse

I am sure that all hon. Members will be able to speak for their own constituencies in this matter. Indeed, much as I find the concept of referendums distasteful, unlike the hon. Gentleman I am not aware that Plaid Cymru desires any referendum on this issue, because it knows only too well what a dusty answer it would receive.

Mr. Wigley


Mr. Abse

The hon. Member for Pembroke was right when he said that there will be many opportunities over many hours to discuss the whole question of devolution if, in fact, a Bill ever comes before the House.

I want to make it clear on behalf of my constituents that they would have profound misgivings if anything that the Secretary of State said led them to believe that obliquely or elliptically by some means there was any suggestion that the powers in the Bill were to be vested else where. I am sure that if the Secretary of State wants to put any devolutionary proposals before the House, he will do so not by stealth but openly. He will not attempt to do it obliquely. He will attempt to gain, or not to gain, the views of the House. In such a profound constitutional issue he will want the House of Commons to express its opinion unequivocally one way or the other.

Therefore, although I appreciate that the Secretary of State may regard this as a frivolous amendment in the normal course of events—he seems to be treating it with frivolity—I am sure he will now understand that there is such an opinion on the Labour benches that it does not require a negative response, in the sense that he says that he never said something to the Welsh Labour Party. I know that he would never be so indiscreet or ill-advised as to make a statement of that kind. I am sure that the Western Mail is completely wrong, because the Welsh Labour Party would have been seriously misled if it believed that there was any opinion on the Labour benches that an assurance of that kind could be lightly given.

4.45 p.m.

In view of the assurance that the Minister has given, I hope that he will allay any anxiety about the proposition that the great powers which he and his Department now have will be anywhere but in his hands. He is well aware that when representatives of Welsh industry met some of my hon. Friends they legitimately expressed deep concern that there should be any control over the activities of the Agency vested anywhere other than in this House. I believe that such an opinion would resonate throughout informed opinion in Wales. I hope that the anxieties of the hon. Member for Pembroke will be speedily allayed.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I am glad that we are able to discuss not only Amendment No. 1 but also Amendment No. 29, to which I should like to confine my remarks.

I am always glad to follow the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I noted his remarks about the opinion of industry in Wales. I take my lead, as does my party, concerning industrial opinion in Wales from the Wales TUC. We have had a number of discussions with the members of the Wales TUC, and from the recent reports it has submitted on this issue it is clear that it is extremely anxious that overall control of economic policy should be vested in the Assembly. That is what Amendment No. 29 seeks to do.

I should like to point out that the amendment is worded in general and permissive terms. It does not in any way seek to lay down a definite structure for the relationship between the Agency and the Welsh National Assembly. Indeed, it does not seek in any way to anticipate any legislation which may in due course be brought before the House.

It may be that the debate on this amendment will obviate some of the 21 days which we are told we are likely to spend at some stage on the devolution Bill. However, I turn to the details of the amendment.

We are anxious to ensure that given an executive Assembly in Wales, which seems to be within the Government's current intentions, it should have not only detailed executive powers within its mode of operation and control and capacity to discuss the detailed consequences of legislation, but an overview of general policy. It is our strongly held view that during the past 20 years economic policy in Wales has been extremely bitty. There has been a lack of overall objective and strategy. There has been a lack of effective economic planning, with some distinguished exceptions with which the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) was not unconnected.

The research document which was prepared by the Aberystwyth experts for the Kilbrandon Commission underlines the lack of clear strategy and objective in economic planning. We see the rôle of the Assembly as having the essential overview of economic policy. Part of this work has been undertaken already by the Welsh Council. The Welsh Council has prepared a number of important reports on economic policy in Wales. These reports do not amount to economic plans, but they are indicative of what can be done, even by a nominated body, in the area of overall economic planning.

We anticipate that the Assembly would be able, under the terms of our amendment, to have an overview of economic objectives. Last night we discussed a similar amendment concerning the Industry Bill in connection with the National Enterprise Board and the promotion of industrial democracy. We supported that amendment because it related to the principle of industrial democracy. Amendment No. 29 seeks to establish the principle of political democracy in economic planning in Wales. I commend it to the House.

Sir Raymond Gower

I submit that the Bill as it stands absolutely justifies the acceptance of Amendment No. 1 and makes not only undesirable but impossible acceptance of Amendment No. 29, for technical reasons. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his legal and, indeed, factual knowledge about the Bill, must recognise that situation.

Clause 11(6) provides that As soon as practicable after the Secretary of State has given a direction under this section he shall lay before each House of Parliament a statement. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must do it if it is his function. An assembly could not lay before each House of Parliament. It would be nonsense to have any other body there except the Secretary of State. It must be a Minister who is a member of this House. Only he has the capacity to do it. Implicit in the wording of the Bill is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to this House and, ultimately, his responsibility for the Assembly.

I turn now to the part of the Bill referred to by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). Clause 12(4) contains the duty, that the Secretary of State…shall…lay a statement as to the matter before Parliament. I cannot see how any other body would have the ability to lay a statement in the terms of that terminology. Only the Secretary of State, being a Member of and a Minister responsible to this House, would have the power to lay a statement in this matter.

I turn then to Clause 17(3), which provides that The said limit shall be £100 million but the Secretary of State may by order made with the consent of the Treasury raise the limit to £150 million. If we substitute the words "the Assembly", I cannot imagine that this House would agree to the Assembly, even with the consent of the Treasury, raising the limit.

Mr. Wigley

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that when the Government's current plans for an Assembly come to fruition, there is every possibility that the Agency will be able to report to that Assembly? It does not mean that the Secretary of State necessarily goes out of existence and that he cannot therefore make reports to this Chamber. But the Assembly can still have an overseeing responsibility for the Agency. Those matters are not incompatible.

Sir Raymond Gower

The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to recognise that we are dealing with the legal position as it is today, not as it may be in six months, a year, two years, or three years. There is no Assembly. We are dealing with an elected Parliament here assembled, with a Secretary of State for Wales responsible to this House and Members elected for constituencies in Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom. There is no other body. The Secretary of State is responsible for these matters. Only he has the power to increase this figure. Can the hon. Gentle- man, with the widest stretch of the imagination, imagine the United Kingdom Parliament leaving the power to increase this amount to some outside body, however reputable? If he can conceive of that, he has a powerful imagination. This House has sometimes appeared to some hon. Members to spend or to vote too much, but it has always been covetous to maintain control of expenditure by itself. If the Assembly is substituted for any of these functions, it would make nonsense of the Bill.

I accept that new legislation may be brought in which would modify or alter the terms of the Bill when enacted. That is conceivable. I give that to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. However, there is no such legislation at present.

What is the position? The position surely is that the Secretary of State is the responsible Minister under whose authority this Agency will operate. It is only under his authority, under the authority of this House, and under moneys granted by this House, that it can function. If we sought to substitute any other responsibility for the Secretary of State, such as an Assembly or any other body, however described, it would write nonsense into much of the Bill.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

My mind is moving into almost total confusion after listening to these speeches. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will clarify one point. Is he speaking against Amendment No. 29 and Amendment No. 1? The arguments that he is using are equally valid in opposing Amendment No. 1 and Amendment No. 29.

Sir Raymond Gower

I do not think that I need to speak against Amendment No. 29, because I do not believe that it could be accepted. I do not suggest that it is inadmissible for discusion, but, if it were accepted, it would be nonsensical. Unless the Bill is radically altered, these functions cannot be transferred to an Assembly. An Assembly cannot lay a statement or vote moneys which are under the control of this House. It must be a Minister responsible to this House. That is why I support the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards). In opening, I said that I supported Amendment No. 1.

In essence, the Bill is based on the principle embodied in Amendment No. 1. I hope that the Secretary of State will not seek to avoid the clear-cut acceptance of the position for which my hon. Friend has asked. Whether we legislate is a separate question. That will be an important matter on which Parliament and different parts of the United Kingdom will have to make up their minds. However, we must discuss the Bill against the background and setting of the law as it stands. In that context, I believe that the Secretary of State must accept his own responsibility.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

I agree in one respect at least with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) and what is now the conventional wisdom of Members of the various parts and regions of Britain about the shortcomings of regional policy over the last 40 years. One shortcoming has been the lack of any adequate planning strategy in total. My right hon. Friends have introduced this Bill and other Bills to set that situation right.

There is another respect in which quite dramatically the shortcomings of regional policy over the last 40 years are illustrated. We have 70,400 Welsh men and women who want, but today have not got, jobs. It is in this context that we should set the questions posed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) and other hon. Members regarding the constitutional future of Wales and its relevance to the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), in one of his typical understatements, said that we shall have a great deal of time during the months ahead to discuss these wider questions. However, the fact remains that the shortcomings of regional policy over the last 40 years cannot, and will not, be set to rights in the time in which they need to be overcome by the constitutional tailoring which will come before this House, by the proposals for an Assembly, or even by the further and more advanced proposal which the hon. Member for Merioneth and his hon. Friends would set before us. Their mistake is to presume that the existence of an Assembly or the development of devolution can and will, in an acceptably short time, make any difference to the essential problems facing Wales.

I very much take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Merioneth about the Welsh TUC. The mistake that Plaid Cymru makes is to presume that the Welsh TUC's enthusiasm for devolution stems from the belief that devolution as such can make a significant contribution to overcoming our problems.

The problem before us is to construct an industrial and employment strategy in the time at our disposal. In view of the critical employment situation in Wales, we must think long and hard before distracting ourselves from the vital economic issues in the forthcoming months with consideration of the constitutional niceties which have arisen from the necessity to implement the Government's manifesto promises.

Devolution is coming. It is unstoppable. We need more accountability, more participation and active democracy.

Members of Parliament must think long and carefully over the next 12 or 15 months about whether we shall permit ourselves to be distracted from the critical issues and take a month of parliamentary time in which to meander around the question of a new constitution for Wales.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows that he is making a speech on a different issue.

5.0. p.m.

Mr. Grist

Despite the cut-off of the previous contribution, this debate confirms the wisdom of this first amendment. It not only reveals the futility of the nationalist party but arouses a grave suspicion about the attitude of the Secretary of State for Wales on this question. There is suspicion that he may be considering incorporating in the White Paper some means of transferring the Agency to a Welsh Assembly. That is what underlies our fears. It may be that the Secretary of State cannot, or will not, choose to speak on that subject today and that we must wait for the White Paper. I have no doubt that the Whilte Paper will provide one of the biggest blockades to further Government action that has ever been seen in this Chamber. That is why I agree with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock).

We must face up to the fact that certain people desire a proliferation of the elected spending agencies in the United Kingdom which will be voted moneys by this House but over which Parliament will surrender control. Those elected assemblies will be politically controlled and politically biased. They will spend money in politically angled directions. That will be their right as elected bodies. However, will this Parliament continue to vote money to those bodies if they are not of the same political thinking as the majority of Members of Parliament? If the representations of Welsh and Scottish Members of Parliament were changed, English Members of Parliament might not be willing to vote money to the Welsh and Scottish Agencies to spend in a politically angled fashion.

The first amendment has a considerable significance. I hope that the Secretary of State will allay some of our doubts about his personal commitment to the Agency and to the Assembly.

Mr. Wigley

As a number of bullets have been aimed at my party, I must respond to some of the points made.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) said that this House might not pass money to the Welsh body overseeing the Agency. That is an outrageous statement. Is that the attitude of himself and his colleagues towards local government units which are controlled by parties other than his own when in office? If that is the way in which he thinks about the problems, no wonder we in Wales have difficulty in obtaining the money which we need for programmes in areas such as Gwynedd. I understand the mentality of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North and his colleagues in the Conservative Party. I hope that the whole of Wales will have heard that.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) dealt with the question whether the Assembly was relevant in this context. Did he fight the last election on his own party manifesto? Did he write a specific clause into his election address to his constituents saying that he disagreed with one portion of the Labour Party manifesto? Did he say that the vote electing him to Parliament in no way represented any support for parts of his party manifesto, but only for the parts which he selected? I am surprised that he should have taken that tack.

Mr. Abse

I shall answer those questions on other occasions. I told my electorate, as far as they would be interested in such peripheral matters as the Welsh Assembly, that the Welsh Development Agency would be controlled by this House in the interests of the electorate by Members of Parliament who had genuine control over the destiny of the funds and industry in their own areas.

Mr. Wigley

It was arrogance on the part of the hon. Gentleman to tell his electorate which parts of the small print they should take notice of and which they should not. That is an incredible attitude.

We are looking forward to an interesting month discussing the Bill.

Mr. Grist

Will the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) say whether he clearly indicated at all times his difference of opinion with some of his colleagues over the Common Market issue at the last election?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I hope that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) will not be tempted by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist).

Mr. Wigley

I am always guided by the wisdom of the Chair in these matters, as in others.

I should like to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on this matter. There must be the maximum scrutiny and opportunity to ask questions on the operation of the Welsh Development Agency. The Government's proposals for devolution are relevant in that context. The opportunity to ask questions about Wales every six weeks provides insufficient time in which to inquire into the operational problems which arise in an agency and the plethora of other bodies in Wales which need greater supervision.

Reference was made to the rôle of the Welsh Council, which is an advisory, nominated council, in these matters. That body has done good work in this context. However, it is not a democratic body. It is not answerable to the people of Wales.

The Labour Party devolution proposals contain good elements which could be wed into the Bill and which we welcome.

In Amendment No. 29 we propose that nothing in this Bill should cut across that possibility.

There are members of the Conservative Party who are unclear about the Bill. They put forward their own amendments, which need to be tightened up. Amendment No. 1 seeks to clarify any uncertainty which may exist. Perhaps the Secretary of State should be mentioned at that point. Our amendment does not cut across the longer-term possibility of the Assembly playing an active rôle in the work of the Agency.

Mr. Alec Jones

I was worried as I thought that we were dealing with the Welsh Development Agency (No. 2) Bill. When I discovered that we were straying far from what I thought the Bill contained. I became positively alarmed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is just as well that the hon. Member's judgment is not mine. I have kept the debate in order. Any reflection of that kind is unacceptable.

Mr. Jones

I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it was not my intention to criticise the Chair. I merely indicated that the debate had wandered to such a degree that I was not sure how I could bring my comments, in answer to the points raised, back to the amendments with which we are dealing.

It was not my intention to be critical either of the Chair or of you personally, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We reject both amendments. If Amendment No. 1 means anything, it suggests that the Welsh Development Agency shall not be responsible to the Secretary of State. As the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) said, we are dealing with things as they are, and the Secretary of State is responsible. Clause 11 refers to the Secretary of State's giving general or specific directions. Clause 16 refers to the Secretary of State's determining the financial duties of the Agency. Right through the Bill the Secretary of State's responsibilities are clearly spelt out. For that reason Amendment No. 1 is unnecessary. I am advised that it has no precise legal meaning, so from that point of view it is also unacceptable.

The discussion switched to Amendment No. 29. Plaid Cymru sought an assurance that the Welsh Development Agency would be transferred to the Welsh Assembly, but other hon. Members were equally adamant that it should not be. In Committee we had a full discussion on this issue and assurances were given during that debate. I can add nothing of substance to what I said in Committee. Hon. Members on both sides of the House must await the White Paper to know what will be the powers and the future of any Welsh Assembly. We cannot in this Bill anticipate what kind of assembly Parliament may or may not set up for Wales or the powers that may or may not be given to it. It is a hypothetical question writ large. The provisions in the Bill are totally without prejudice to the functions that may or may not be given to the Assembly.

Although I enjoyed the debate, when my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said that we should have a great deal of time to discuss these matters in future I began to get a little weary—

Mr. Abse

My hon. Friend said that the Bill was without prejudice to what may or may not take place. That surely cannot be so when in Clause 12(4) the Bill gives specific powers to the House now. It is not without prejudice. It is a categorical affirmation that this House has the powers. Why should my hon. Friend draw back from that position?

Mr. Jones

The answer is in the words used by my hon. Friend "this House has the powers". The House has power to decide next week, next month or next year whether the Bill or any other Act of Parliament shall be amended. It will be up to the House to make a decision In saying that it was without prejudice I was merely indicating that there was nothing in the Bill to suggest what powers the Welsh Development Agency will or will not have.

On those grounds I recommend my hon. Friends to oppose the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I made clear at the outset that we should not press the amendment and that we put it down merely to raise this important issue. As has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, the Bill is incompatible with the concept that the power could be surrendered to another body.

The Under-Secretary of State said that assurances were given in Committee, but on this issue no assurances were given. He spoke then, as he spoke today, about "hypothetical questions". He said that there was nothing in the Bill to prevent Parliament at some future date taking another course. Of course there is not. What we are concerned with is not the Bill as it stands, not what Parliament may decide in future but the Government's intentions. Although it may have been a hypothetical question some weeks or months ago in Committee because at that stage the Government's views on the issue may not have been clear, now the White Paper is being considered in its draft form and will be presented to the House in a month's time. It is inconceivable that the Government have not considered the question, and that they cannot give us an assurance that they will not proceed suddenly to reverse all the undertakings they have given to us about the nature of the Bill. That is very regrettable.

It would be improper for the Government to ask the House at this stage in the Session to accept a Bill on the basis of clear and categorical assurances about the relationship of the Agency to Parliament and, within the space of about four weeks, come forward with other proposals. If they do that they deserve condemnation. On that basis I will leave the matter for the time being.

Amendment negatived.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 13, leave out paragraph (b).

The paragraph states that one of the purposes for which the Agency may exercise its functions is to promote industrial efficiency and international competitiveness in Wales". There is a similar paragraph in the Industry Bill, so it would seem that there is here an overlap with the National Enterprise Board. A similar paragraph has also been belatedly inserted in the Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill, largely because it is in the Welsh Development Agency (No. 2) Bill. No other significant reason was advanced for its inclusion. Our aim in moving the amendment is to find out what the Gov- ernment mean by the paragraph, and if it has no meaning of any significance, to get the Government to leave it out.

The matter received little attention in Committee. The Secretary of State stressed that the purpose was an all-Wales purpose and resisted an attempt on the part of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) to bring the paragraph more closely into line with the National Enterprise Board purpose, which is to promote efficiency and international competitiveness in any part of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Secretary of State was so strong on the indivisibility of this purpose in the Welsh Bill that one was tempted to believe that he had something specific in mind.

What is meant by "industrial efficiency and international competitiveness"? In the Industry Bill Committee the Opposition stressed profitability as a criterion of efficiency and competitiveness by private and publicly-owned industry, but the Government would have none of it. In Committee on this Bill the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) suggested that "industrial efficiency" might involve mobility of labour.

As the paragraph covers one of the four fundamental purposes of the Agency, we are entitled to a more ample explanation of what is meant by promoting "industrial efficiency and international competitiveness". Otherwise, the Agency may use the paragraph as an excuse for unnecessary interference in industrial concerns. Is there an oblique reference in the phrase "promotion of international competitiveness" to the Development Corporation for Wales, which has been active in trying to secure foreign markets for Welsh goods? As the paragraph sets out one of the four fundamental purposes of the Agency, it is important that the Government should spell out precisely what is meant.

Mr. Barry Jones

I suspect that the amendment was tabled because this provision was not in the Scottish Development Agency (No. 2) Bill. Perhaps it was done at a rather late stage because the Scots followed the Welsh. I suspect that that is why the hon. Gentleman had to make such a deeply philosophical speech.

I can reply briefly. What we mean is what we say in the Bill. We think that it is vital to the future of Wales that our industry should become more efficient and more competitive, particularly in export markets. I would not have thought any Conservative Members would have sought in any way to diminish the importance of that objective. I would have thought that efficiency and competitiveness had featured in every industrial and economic debate in the House for many years. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would have said "Three cheers" for that objective.

Mr. Grist

I do not find the Minister's answer very exact. I do not know whether he has ever studied philosophy, but I would have thought this the kind of phrase that could be examined word by word if one wanted to do so. This is mumbo jumbo: it means everything or nothing. It is a marvellous phrase, "to promote industrial efficiency". Yes, we are in favour of motherhood, the good as opposed to the bad, and industrial efficiency. We are in favour of international competitiveness, but I never thought that the Agency was to be in the big league.

If the Minister thinks about it, the best way in which to achieve industrial competitiveness is by competing. As long as the Welsh economy is competitive with world competitors, and as long as it produces the goods and can sell them, it will get on with the job itself. I do not have the foggiest notion how the Agency can "promote" competitiveness, nor, I imagine, will the executive.

Sir A. Meyer

This is all part of the process whereby the Bill is deliberately raising false hopes. It is all part of the mumbo jumbo. The attitude seems to be "Leave it to the Agency. We can sit back The Agency will bring jobs and prosperity." That is why I have the greatest reservations about the Bill. The clause just adds to the offence.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I found the Minister's reply totally unsatisfactory. I must remind him that we are discussing one of the four fundamental purposes of the Bill and the Agency. This sort of subsection was not included in the Scottish Bill. The Government inserted it into this Bill at a late stage. Clearly the Government, or Scottish Ministers, were not fully convinced that the subsection had any meaning. All that we are doing now is to press the Under-Secretary of State to define precisely what is meant by industrial efficiency and international competitiveness". We want to know how the Agency will achieve those objectives.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 17, at end insert: 'in those aspects where the environment has been, is, or may be adversely affected, wholly or partly by industrial development'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 5, in page 1, leave out line 18 and insert: '(where the existing amenity requires improvement)'. No. 6, in page 1, line 18, after ' amenity ', insert ' and natural surroundings '.

No. 16, in page 2, line 20, at end insert: 'and to the desirability of safeguarding the environment'. No. 39, in page 9, line 10, at end insert: 'after proper regard has been paid to the need to safeguard and conserve the environment'.

Mr. Wigley

I believe that these amendments will be received with sympathy by both sides of the House. We had an interesting discussion on this matter in Committee but the amendments which we put forward at that stage were rejected because of certain specific aspects. In Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 we have changed in detail what we put forward in Committee to try to overcome some of the difficulties that were put forward by the Government.

As has been said, there are some matters on which there is total agreement in the House—for example, everyone is in favour of good as opposed to evil.

Mr. Kinnock

Not always.

Mr. Wigley

Perhaps what I have said does not apply to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). However, there is unanimity on the need to improve the Welsh environment, and particularly the aspects which the Bill primarily has in mind. They include areas which have been despoiled by industrial development over the last century and a half.

In Committee the argument which I put forward was that the money which is to be provided, which must be within a certain limit, and the objective of the Agency in the framework of the Bill should be concentrated on aspects of the environment that have specifically suffered from the effects of industrial development. I outlined a number of aspects of environmental development such as rural areas, the sea coast, urban development and housing redevelopment. They were all matters which could have come within the framework of the Bill as it then stood but which I would not have regarded as the prime purpose of the Agency.

In replying to the debate in Committee the Under-Secretary of State said that he was turning down the amendments that were then put forward because There could be a major environmental scheme which could cover an area which was 80 per cent. adversely affected by industrial development. The remaining 20 per cent. might not have been affected in this way."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 10th July 1975; c. 78.] The hon. Gentleman pinned his argument on that basis. I accepted in Committee that it was a fair point. Amendment No. 4 has been tabled with a slight change of words and now reads wholly or partly by industrial development". Having made that change I hope that the Under-Secretary of State may now find it possible to accept the amendment.

There was argument in Committee about the wording of the amendment which is now represented by Amendment No. 5. I remember that the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) entered into the discussion. Clearly, there was unhappiness both in Committee and in another place about the exact phrasing that has been used. I have in mind the words "existing amenity". The point was made that any improvement in the environment would have regard to existing amenity.

The suggestion came in different forms of wording from different places that the phrase should be "(where the existing amenity requires improvement)". Once again, we have changed the wording in the amendment to meet the points that were made in Committee and to capture the spirit in Committee, which I believed crossed party lines, to improve and tighten this aspect of the Bill so as to give the Agency powers to concentrate on areas on which it should concentrate—namely, those areas of Wales that have been left with the scars of an industrial revolution, scars which must be cleared up in this generation.

Sir Raymond Gower

I imagine that the Ministers are aware that the amendments reveal a lack of complete satisfaction about the existing wording. I appreciate that hon. Members on both sides of the House support the general phrase to further the improvement of the environment in Wales". But then we come to the rather peculiar phrase (having regard to the existing amenity)". It might seem that that sets a limit to the task of furthering the improvement of the environment. Of course, the task must be governed to some extent by the conditions that prevail in a certain locality.

I believe that just as important as the conditions which obtain industrially is the nature of the surroundings. That is why I have added a short addendum in Amendment No. 6. It may be impossible in some areas to produce the kind of improved environment that is desirable. The natural conditions and the existing amenity may make that impracticable.

I submit that the addition of the addendum is some improvement. Frankly I am not at all happy about this wording. I am not sure that any of the proposed amendments will produce the sort of wording we all desire. I would like to hear the Minister explain in some detail what he conceives to be "amenity" and what limits are set.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Barry Jones

I shall be advising the House to resist this group of amendments and that the existing wording is as good as any other. I take on board the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower).

We had a lengthy debate in Committee on the subject and I have considered these amendments sympathetically. However, we do not accept that they improve the Bill. The point has been made that to stipulate in the Bill that the Agency's environmental redevelopment rôle should be restricted in the way proposed would be a mistake. There could well be unsightliness which could be improved but which could not be tied directly to the consequences of industrial development. The introduction of the phrase: where the existing amenity requires improvement in place of: having regard to existing amenity is unacceptable. The requirement that the Agency should have regard to existing amenity says exactly what is intended, and we attach importance to that.

I want to put minds at rest. In its environmental rôle the Agency will not be running amok throughout Wales, ignoring areas which require improvement and causing devastation in areas of great splendour and beauty; for example, in Caernarvon. The Agency will be a responsible body. It will obviously carefully consider the best use of the funds at its disposal. I remind hon. Members that in its environmental development rôle not only will the Agency be expected to proceed in partnership with local authorities but it will also require planning permission from local authorities before proceeding with a scheme. Policy approval of the Secretary of State is also required for schemes. This introduces a further safeguard.

In dealing with Amendment No. 6, I do not think I can add to the points I have made on Amendments Nos. 4 and 5. I hope that I have said enough to reassure hon. Members that in carrying out its work of improving the environment the Agency will act responsibly. I hope that I can persuade the hon. Member for Caernarvon to leave things to the good sense of the Agency in carrying out its environmental function, wherever it might be in Wales, in the way in which the White Paper envisaged. This would, I am sure, fully take into account the need to preserve natural surroundings.

"Amenity" includes natural surroundings. The hon. Member for Barry wanted me to go into detail. He is an eminent lawyer with great experience of this House. He knows that if I were to go into the niceties of definitions it would take up a lot of our time. I am very much aware that it is hoped that we shall reach other business later. There is the safeguard that the Agency will need planning permission from local authorities before it can proceed with schemes.

Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)

I hope that I shall be forgiven for intruding for about two minutes in this debate among Welshmen. My only excuse for doing so is that for three years my political opponent in my constituency was a Welsh preacher. For me to spend a few minutes preaching to the Welsh can perhaps be understood and forgiven in view of those three years. I sympathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer), who has expressed fears about the false hopes that could easily be built up as a result of this Agency.

I intervene as a former Secretary of State for the Environment to say that during the period when I was in office I was anxious that all parts of the country which suffered from industrial dereliction should have first priority when it came to improving the environment. What worries me is that, rather than talking about this Agency carrying out its functions, it would be much better if all existing powers were being used more fully and more sensibly to improve the environment of Wales. Under the Tory Government there were three areas to which we gave attention. First was the clearing of derelict land, the second was the improvement of derelict eyesores and the third was the improvement of older houses. We had a massive programme of expansion.

There was a colossal increase in the improvement of many old houses. That programme is now in steep decline in Wales. There was a massive improvement in terms of the clearance of derelict land. Now we discover that in the past 12 months approvals for derelict land clearance in Wales and almost every other region are going into sharp decline. There was "Operation Eyesore", which was far more flexible than this Agency is likely to be and far more capable of effective and speedy action.

Throughout Wales, in almost every constituency, many environmental improvements swiftly took place. There had been unemployment in the construction industry, and those who were unemployed were utilised and galvanised into action. I hope that the people of Wales will not be fooled into thinking—because there is this legislation with its fine phrases about environment—that the Agency will necessarily do better than the whole range of programmes which succeeded under us and which now do not exist or are deteriorating under the Labour Government.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I found the Minister's comments most unsatisfactory. It is a function of the Agency to undertake the development and redevelopment of the environment. It is that phrasing which we do not like since it contains a sweeping power. Many hon. Members in all parties believe that the Agency is given far too much power to make positive changes which might not be generally agreed to be good.

I hope that the Minister will say something about Amendments Nos. 16 and 39. In Amendment No. 16 we seek to introduce the idea of safeguarding the environment so that an appeal can be made to the Secretary of Stale by interested bodies on the grounds referred to in the amendment in the event of the Agency endangering the environment by development or redevelopment. It was explained in Committee that "development and redevelopment" meant improvement. But we are not dealing with absolute subjects here.

The Agency might decide to promote the extraction of minerals in a picturesque locality and might justify whatever immediate harm might be done to the environment by plans to landscape the area afterwards. The Agency might argue that the landscaping would be an improvement on the existing scene. There would be some who would disagree with that. We believe, therefore, that there should be something in the Bill to justify representations being made to the Secretary of State. The Minister argued that the point was already covered by existing planning law and procedure. This is so. But we are anxious that there should be a direct responsibility upon the Agency to safeguard the environment.

The Government will no doubt argue that in Clause 14 there is a duty to consult local authorities and other interested bodies before the Agency submits applications for the performance of its functions, in particular as they relate to schemes for the development or redevelopment of the environment. Our comment is that consultation is all very fine but it is no substitute for a duty laid upon the Agency to safeguard the environment. As the Bill stands, the duty is to develop and redevelop. We wish to see the additional duty imposed of safeguarding the environment that we all cherish.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Some of us have expressed concern at an in-built conflict between environmental work and industrial development work. This is the reasoning behind our amendment, so that there can be a clear link between environmental work in areas of dereliction, which often most require new industrial development land and new development.

The Under-Secretary will be very familiar with the schemes going ahead in North Wales to provide industrial development land as a result of derelict land clearance. We should like to see this kind of work as the priority of the Agency. Our concern is that the environmental aspect will be far too generalised and will not be specifically directed to the areas of dereliction, which are also the areas which need well-planned new industrial parks to replace the current despoliation.

Mr. Barry Jones

I understand what the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) is saying and, very much agree with him.

I did not disagree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) said. He held high office in the Department of the Environment for a long period. He implied that the programmes of derelict land clearance under the Labour Government did not measure up to those he had operated under the Conservative Government. He will not be surprised if I disagree in a pleasant way with his contention.

The derelict land unit in Wales, which has been doing such magnificent work, is to be subsumed within the Welsh Development Agency. A large part of the Welsh Development Agency budget will be devoted to furthering the schemes which the hon. Member for Merioneth and others have described.

The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) wished to have a response from me on the matters he raised. At worst, the phrase to which he referred might be interpreted as implying that the Agency has a positive rôle to play in safeguarding the environment—I am sure that he will agree with me on this—but it is for the local authorities themselves to decide whether or not to grant planning permission. I remind him that, wherever appropriate, the Agency will have to apply to local planning authorities for planning permission. If any aspect of the proposed development gives rise to specific concern for environmental matters quite properly the responsibility for deciding what action is required will rest with the local authority. The hon. Member might agree with me when I say that I do not think that local authorities in Wales would welcome any implication to the contrary. That is one of the reasons on which I would base my decision not to accept the amendment.

Concerning Amendment No. 39, which the hon. Member also mentioned, in my view there is no need whatsoever to write into the Bill a requirement of the sort suggested. It is perfectly obvious that, in preparing and submitting schemes for environmental redevelopment, the Agency will give proper regard to the need to safeguard and preserve the environment.

Secondly, I remind the hon. Member that the Bill contains, in Clause 1(2)(d) the requirement that the Agency should have regard to existing amenity.

Sir Raymond Gower

May I ask the Under-Secretary why he uses terminology to the effect that it is certain that the Agency will do so-and-so? I know that the Agency will be a well-composed body, with very eminent people, but he speaks as though it is perfect and will never make any sort of error. It is surely somewhat absurd to raise any body to this magnificent stature and to suggest that it will never make an error.

Mr. Jones

I am certain that, like any other body, the Agency will make errors. None of us is free from error and no body is free from error. Our form of words, given the complications of the situation, is, we feel, as good as any. We shall have to trust the Welsh Development Agency to act according to the outlines and principles that I have indicated so far in this debate.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Wigley

If I may, by leave of the House, speak again, I have listened with interest to the comments made in the debate. I was especially interested to hear the contribution of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). His qualification is evident, having fought an election against an excellent man who came from Merthyr Tydvil, where I used to live. I hope the right hon. Gentleman has many fights again with him and that his opponent will eventually find his way to this Chamber.

The points made by the Under-Secretary in relation to the various amendments did not, I felt, meet the substance of what has been said by various hon. Members. I do not believe that the Under-Secretary and the other hon. Members who have spoken against him are at variance in substance. I believe that they are all trying to achieve the same thing. But I honestly believe, with other hon. Members, that the wording in the Bill does not aim at doing what the Undersecretary, I am sure, wants the Agency to do and what we all want it to do in this matter.

Reference has been made to the records of various Governments in clearing dereliction in Wales, and it is fair to say that Governments, both Conservative and Labour, have made progress in this respect over the last 10 years, but, equally, it should be said that no Government have made sufficient progress. Given that there is a restriction on the funds available for the purpose, it is important that there should be concentration upon the schemes that need money from this source, and that the money available is not scattered to other schemes which may be of environmental interest but have nothing to do with dereliction.

The Under-Secretary, in his reply, concentrated on the planning controls and the authorisation by the Secretary of State. In many of these schemes, planning controls would not be sufficient. In the case of the foreshore or the top of Snowdon they would not be needed. Other matters such as the clearance of houses could come into it—eminently good things but not the sort of work properly related to industrial dereliction.

The Under-Secretary mentioned the safeguard of the Secretary of State, but if a scheme had been put forward and received publicity it would be very difficult for him to turn it down, even though this may not have been the main scheme upon which he wanted to spend the money.

I cannot understand why the Under-secretary cannot accommodate the amendment. His main argument in Committee was that the wording was then insufficient. We have now changed the wording. His argument was valid and we entirely accepted it, but now, the wording having been changed why cannot he accommodate us? I find it very disappointing.

With regard to the amendment dealing with existing amenity, the Under-Secretary gave an assurance in Committee, at columns 80 and 81, that he would look again at this matter. In his speech he did not say what detail he had looked at. I took his word that he may well have looked at the question, and that looking again does not necessarily mean a change, but I think that in Committee he accepted that there was a good argument here. Perhaps with the lapse of time since the Committee met the argument put forward then has dimmed into the mists of the past.

These are not amendments which we intend to force to a Division. They are amendments which we believe are important in order to underline the work on which this Agency should be concentrating. I hope that the message will go out from this debate to those who will be running the Agency, when it is set up shortly, that these are the lines on which hon. Members of all parties are thinking, and that this is work on which the Agency should concentrate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 18 at end insert 'and (e) to act in partnership with and to coordinate the activities of other public and private bodies in Wales whose objective includes one or more of the functions listed in (a) to (c) above;'. We regard this amendment as one of the most important amendments tabled tonight. It is not a probing amendment. We intend to press it as hard as possible.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

To a vote?

Mr. Wigley

Yes, to a vote. This amendment was debated in Committee at length. It concerns the co-ordination of the various bodies in Wales which are associated with industrial development. As has been mentioned, both on Second Reading and in Committee, there are so many bodies in Wales that exist to develop industry and the economy that there is a crying need for co-ordination. There are bodies such as the Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association, and there is also the work being done by the new towns body, both in Newtown and Cwmbran, by COSIRA and by the Welsh Industrial Estates Corporation. Almost every one of the new counties has an economic development officer who is doing good work in this context. There is also the work being done by the Department of Industry, and there will be the work that this Agency will do.

Co-ordination is vital if these bodies are not to overlap and there is to be no waste of public money from such overlapping. There is also the danger that we shall not have a co-ordinated plan of attack on the problem that faces Wales and that we shall make sporadic attempts at solving it.

Recently in my constituency a problem of this nature has arisen due to lack of co-ordination. The Mid-Wales Industrial Development Association was interested in expanding its territory to take in part of my constituency. However, during consideration of this matter the lines of communication broke down because many bodies that should have been involved in the discussions, such as the district council, were not included until a late stage. This is an example of how there can be a breakdown of communication due to the fact that there are many bodies which do similar work.

In Committee the Government said that they preferred this matter to be dealt with on a partnership basis. We accept that there is partnership here. We are not saying that the Agency should give directions to bodies such as the local authorities. We built into the amendment the word "partnership" in order to underline the fears that the Government had about the previous wording.

There is a need to specify which of these bodies will be responsible for coordination. I cannot accept that any other body but the Agency can have that responsibility. It could be said that the Secretary of State would have to undertake that function because he is creating an Agency which we hope will have the expertise and dynamism to deal with the problems facing Wales. If the Agency does not have those qualities it will be a waste of time. If it does, it is the body that should be doing the co-ordination.

I accept that the Secretary of State would be responsible to Parliament—in due course there may be other arrangements but that is a different matter—for the democratic control, but for the day-to-day management and for ensuring that decisions taken in one place do not overlap those taken in another place there needs to be a body which is regarded by everyone as the hub of a wheel—a wheel that moves in the same direction, and a wheel of many parts, but a wheel that is linked by spokes to one part. This Agency should be the hub.

I press the Under-Secretary and the Government to think again on this amendment and to accept that the co-ordination of the various activities in this sphere must be done by the Agency. I ask them to accept the amendment.

Sir Raymond Gower

I recollect that the Government spokesmen accepted the principle and spirit of this idea when we debated these matters in Committee. They did not go so far as to accept any particular amendment, but I have the impression that they were in favour of the principle that has been enunciated by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley).

I support not merely the principle that he has enunciated but his amendment. I should like it supplemented by the Agency having the duty to give advice and help to these bodies. However, the amendment is first class, and I hope that the Government, as they indicated an acceptance of the idea in principle and have not tabled a different amendment to embody this idea in principle, will accept it. I hope that the Minister will say that they will. If not, and if the hon. Gentleman's colleagues propose to divide on this amendment, I shall support them in the Division Lobby.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) tabled a similar amendment in Committee but it called only for co-ordination of activities of other bodies whose objectives included one or more of the function listed in subsection (2)(a) and (2)(b). However, the hon. Gentleman later pointed out that there was a printing error and that paragraph (c) should have been included. The present amendment has added paragraph (c) but not paragraph (d), although a number of bodies are concerned with the environment with which the Agency will have to work. However, perhaps that can be left to the partnership, which was mentioned in Committee.

The Government resisted this amendment in Committee on the ground that the inclusion of co-ordination as a specific purpose of the Agency might lead to difficulties in relationships with other bodies. The argument they advanced was not very convincing. As I indicated in Committee, Conservative Members are sympathetic to the spirit of the amendment because many bodies are involved which have similar aims to those ascribed to the Agency, in particular the local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) also supported the amendment in Committee. Other bodies require co-ordination and leadership of the type that the hon. Member for Caernarvon has just described. The Under-Secretary argued that co-ordination was the responsibility of the Secretary of State. However, the Secretary of State has to operate through some body and the Agency seems well fitted—indeed, best fitted—for the task.

There is a need for positive coordination and we are not averse to laying a specific duty on the Agency in this connection. Without co-ordination, effort will be dissipated and money wasted. The left hand will not know what the right hand is doing. If the hon. Member for Caernarvon presses his amendment to a Division, we shall support him.

Mr. Alec Jones

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) decided to vote against the Government before he heard further contributions from the Government Front Bench. There is a danger that discussion on this amendment will assume that the Government are opposed to co-operation and coordination and that only those who support the amendment are in favour of it. We are desperately anxious that there shall be the maximum degree of co-operation and co-ordination between the Welsh Development Agency and all the other private or public bodies that operate in Wales.

The divide between us is about whether we shall make that co-operation or coordination a statutory duty. The hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) indicated that many bodies throughout Wales operated in similar spheres. He specifically mentioned local authorities. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that local authorities in Wales and in other parts of the United Kingdom are sometimes, rightly, jealous that no one should intrude. That feeling may be wrongly held, but it is held by local authorities. Co-operation and co-ordination, partnership and working together, are not secured by making one body statutorily responsible for co-ordination.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Does the Minister agree that local authorities in Wales look to the Welsh Office for guidance and leadership, particularly at this time of crisis, when unemployment is high? Certainly it is my experience that they look to the Welsh Office, and I believe that through the Welsh Office they will look to the Agency for the kind of co-operation that we expect.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Jones

I hope that local authorities will always look to the Welsh Office for guidance and advice when required. It is easy to play about with the words "co-operation" and "co-ordination", but they are not so easy to achieve. We are talking of major projects stretching from the north to the south of Wales. The right degree of co-operation can best be achieved when it grows from the roots. Willingness to work in partnership can best be fostered naturally rather than by imposition of a statutory duty.

I appreciate the need for co-operation and co-ordination. I have reconsidered the problem, and discussed it with several people. It would be a mistake to believe that imposing such a duty on the Agency would not cause friction among many of the other organisations which are doing first-class work.

Sir Raymond Gower

I appreciate the points that the Minister is making. We are all encouraged by his statement that the Government want co-operation between the Agency and the other bodies. The Government have accepted the spirit of the amendment, and the Minister's objections are covered by the words "to act in partnership". The hon. Gentleman says that the local authorities are jealous of their functions and do not want to be ordered about. A partner does not order his partner about, but acts in co-operation.

Mr. Jones

I do not read the amendment in the same way. I do not believe that one can be regarded as an equal member of a partnership if one of the partners has special statutory responsibilities or powers which the other does not have. That is clearly what is meant. The hon. Member for Caernarvon spoke of a statutory power to co-ordinate. I believe that that would create resentment not only among local authorities and many of the public bodies, but among many of the private organisations with which the Agency will have to work. The amendment includes the words public and private bodies in Wales". If we are to have the co-operation and co-ordination between all the bodies in Wales that we believe to be necessary in this area, I ask the hon. Gentleman to think again. It would be a great mistake to impose this statutory duty merely on the Agency.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does the Minister agree that we have too many bodies trying to look after the economy in Wales, the economy of Mid-Wales in particular, and that it would be much wiser to coordinate policies within the framework of the Agency?

Mr. Jones

I can see merit in that, but it might be as well to delay discussion of Mid-Wales until we come to the specific amendments dealing with the area, when I am sure many contributions will be made on how its problems can be dealt with.

What divides us is not whether we need co-ordination but whether it shall be statutory. Having held many discussions with various organisations, I believe that imposition of a duty to co-ordinate activities would make it much more difficult for the Agency to begin its work in the right spirit, one which I hope will succeed.

Mr. Wigley

I am disappointed that the Government have not been able to meet us on this matter. The Under-Secretary said that he would much rather see organic co-ordination growing. If that happens, it will be highly desirable.

I refer in the amendment to private bodies so as to include such organisations as the Welsh Development Corporation, which obtains much of its money from private sources. There are both private and public bodies at work, and the coordination that we hope will blossom is not yet apparent. We face the problem not only in Mid-Wales but in other parts of Wales. I have seen in my work in industry manifestations of the problems of having to deal with a number of different authorities when sometimes, with the best will in the world, the left and right hands are not quite sure what the other is doing.

We are not talking of a power for Big Brother to say "You will do this and that". We want to make sure that each authority knows what the others are doing. Somebody must take an initiative, and the Agency is the right organisation to do so.

If we leave things as they are, the problems will persist and become worse, because there will be one more body involved. We need one that will co-ordinate all the others which are doing work which is excellent work but which

will be limited in value unless they are all pulling in the same direction at the same time.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this aspect is particularly important in safeguarding employment, and that unless there is coordination, particularly with the local authorities, there will be a tremendous dissipation of effort?

Mr. Wigley

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a very valid point. The Manpower Services Commission is bringing forward excellent schemes, which we welcome but which we should like to go further. There is a need for co-ordination there. I have been chasing people in my constituency, such as the economic development officer, to make sure that there is co-ordination. There is not the global co-ordination that should exist.

That is why I want to include in the Bill a reference to the co-ordination that is essential if we are to have the maximum possible benefit that we all want from setting up the Agency. For that reason we have tabled the amendment, and shall be glad to have the opportunity to divide the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 69, Noes 101.

Division No. 357.] AYES [6.10 p.m.
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hall, Sir John Neubert, Michael
Beith, A. J. Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Onslow, Cranley
Berry, Hon Anthony Henderson, Douglas Osborn, John
Biffen, John Higgins, Terence L. Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Biggs-Davison, John Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Pardoe, John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Parkinson, Cecil
Brittan, Leon Hutchison, Michael Clark Peyton, Rt Hon John
Bryan, Sir Paul James, David Rathbone, Tim
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Cockcroft, John Kilfedder, James Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Kitson, Sir Timothy Sims, Roger
Costain, A. P. Lane, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Lawrence, Ivan Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)
Durant, Tony Luce, Richard Viggers, Peter
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John MacCormick, Iain Walker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Wall, Patrick
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Meyer, Sir Anthony Watt, Hamish
Fisher, Sir Nigel Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Weatherill, Bernard
Goodhart, Philip Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Winterton, Nicholas
Goodhew, Victor Montgomery, Fergus
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Morgan, Geraint TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Mr. Dafydd Wigley and
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Neave, Airey Mr. D. E. Thomas.
Grist, Ian
Abse, Leo Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Cant, R. B.
Anderson, Donald Bates, Alf Carmichael, Neil
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Bidwell, Sydney Clemitson, Ivor
Atkinson, Norman Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)
Coleman, Donald Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Dalyell, Tam John, Brynmor Richardson, Miss Jo
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Johnson, James (Hull West) Roderick, Caerwyn
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rooker, J. W.
Dormand, J. D. Kinnock, Neil Rose, Paul B.
Duffy, A. E. P. Lamond, James Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Dunn, James A. Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Sandelson, Neville
Eadie, Alex Litterick, Tom Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Edge, Geoff Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Small, William
English, Michael McCartney, Hugh Spearing, Nigel
Ennals, David McElhone, Frank Spriggs, Leslie
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Mackintosh, John P. Stallard, A. W.
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McNamara, Kevin Stonehouse, Rt Hon John
Faulds, Andrew Madden, Max Strang, Gavin
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Marks, Kenneth Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Flannery, Martin Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Maynard, Miss Joan Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
George, Bruce Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Goodhart, Philip Millan, Bruce Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Moonman, Eric Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Grant, John (Islington C) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Ward, Michael
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Newens, Stanley Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Noble, Mike Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wise, Mrs Audrey
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Padley, Walter Young, David (Bolton E)
Hunter, Adam Park, George
Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Peart, Rt Hon Fred TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Pendry, Tom Mr. David Stoddart and
Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Perry, Ernest Mr. Joseph Harper.

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 1, after 'provide', insert 'or assist in the provision of'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we are to take the following amendments:

No. 10, in page 2, line 3, leave out paragraph (c) and insert— '(c) to carry on or establish and carry on whether by themselves or jointly with any other persons, industrial undertakings'; No. 12, in page 2, line 10, leave out paragraph (f) and insert— '(f) to provide or adapt sites and provide, adapt, modernise or reconstruct premises for industrial undertakings or assist any other person to do any of those things and provide or assist in the provision of related services or facilities'; No. 13, in page 2, line 12, after 'manage', insert 'or assist in the management of'; No. 14, in page 2, line 16, after 'undertake', insert 'or assist in undertaking'.

Mr. Edwards

The object of these amendments is to introduce greater flexibility into the Bill, or at least to make clear that flexibility exists. The amendments seek to put the wording in line with that of the Scottish Development Agency Bill, which wording seemed to have some merit.

We want to make sure that the Agency can act not just on its own but in partnership with others and that it can participate jointly and contribute perhaps a modest share which might make it possible to get a venture established. We made clear in Committee that we do not believe that a Government body should establish and manage an industrial or commercial concern in competition with the private sector.

We object to the inclusion of subsection (3)(c). If we are to have this provision, let us at least make sure that the Agency is free to perform what could be its most useful function, that of providing the backing which can make it possible for a business to succeed.

The object of these amendments is to make that flexibility abundantly clear. In particular we want to make plain that there is power not just to provide industrial premises but to adapt, modernise and reconstruct them. What may be just as important as providing the services is to make it possible for others to do so.

Whilst the Minister is right in saying that we should not follow slavishly the Scottish Bill, this seems to be a case in which the wording in that Bill has something to contribute and that there would be much merit in accepting the wording in that Bill.

Mr. Alec Jones

In dealing with Amendments Nos. 9, 13 and 14, the hon.

Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) was right to emphasise the need for flexibility. However, I must commend the House to reject the amendments. I do so because the flexibility which he wants already exists in the present wording. There is no quarrel with the principle behind the amendments, but I believe them to be unnecessary because the greater including the less, as the phrase goes, means that it is already explicit in the drafting of the Bill that the Agency can assist in providing finance and providing sites, and undertaking the development and redevelopment of the environment. I hope that, with that assurance, that the flexibility which the hon. Gentleman requested is inbuilt in the Bill, he will withdraw Amendment No. 9 and not press Amendments Nos. 13 and 14.

I now wish to say something about Amendment No. 10. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has done a considerable amount of homework in the recess and has made a study of the Scottish Development Agency Bill. I do not criticise the Bill, but it is not incumbent on us to ensure that our wording is identical with the wording in that Bill. There is no point of substance in Amendment No. 10. The difference between the two Bills merely reflects different drafting styles of two different draftsmen. There is no need to change the wording for the sake of change.

Amendment No. 12 introduces the concept of assistance, but, as I have indicated, we already have that degree of flexibility in the Bill. The amendment refers to adapting, modernising or reconstructing premises. There is a difference here between our Bill and the Scottish Bill. The words in Amendment No. 12 have been included in the Scottish Bill because that Bill does not contain a provision equivalent to Clause 8(2) in the Bill under discussion. The hon. Gentleman will see that Clause 8(2) spells out the Agency's power to modernise, adapt or reconstruct buildings". I hope that, with this assurance, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Grist

Could the Minister put my mind at rest on Amendment No. 9? I was not quite clear from what he said whether the Agency could act as a guarantor for a body or company wishing to raise money rather than having to provide the finance. "To assist in the provision of" is not the same as "providing". Assisting in the provision, for instance, could imply acting as a guarantor.

Sir Raymond Gower

Of course, the Minister is accurate in saying that the whole includes the part. We can all appreciate that. The words to provide finance for persons carrying on…industrial undertakings would embrace the part provision by the Agency and the part provision by some other person or organisation. Nevertheless I believe that there would be considerable value in accepting the amendments.

The Agency, on looking at this measure, might be disposed to say "As an agency, we are to provide the finance exclusively and not in co-operation with other persons or organisations". The inclusion of the proposed words would act as a guideline to the Agency. They would spell out the idea that the Agency does not need to do this separately and wholly, but that it could do it in co-operation with others. To that extent I should have thought that, as they are in the Scottish Bill, the words should be included also in this Bill. The Minister has said that there is no reason why we should slavishly follow the Scottish Bill. We accept that, but can he explain why these or similar words were imported into the Scottish Bill? Surely there was some valid reason.

Mr. Alec Jones

With the leave of the House, I think I said that the Scottish Bill was drafted by one draftsman and this Bill was drafted by another. After all, if two people sat down to write about the same subject it would be extraordinary if they used identical words. We merely have a different choice of words largely as a result of the different draftsmen involved. When we refer to the provision of anything, it includes assisting in the provision. When we talk about managing, that includes assisting in the management of; when we talk about undertaking, that includes assisting in the undertaking. If we were to add the proposed words they would not add one jot of extra power to the Welsh Development Agency. If these words are not necessary or helpful, we would be unwise to clutter up the Bill any further.

I refer the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Grist) to Clause 1(6)(e) which gives the Agency power to guarantee obligations (arising out of loans or otherwise) incurred by other persons".

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

We are interested to know that different draftsmen have been involved, although parts of the Bill appear to have had a common parentage. However, in view of the assurances, which are now on the record, that our objectives are achieved by the Bill, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

May I take this opportunity to tell the House that I was wrong to ask the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) to seek the leave of the House to speak again. The mover of an amendment and Members on the Government Front Bench may participate more than once in the debate without permission from the House—as long as they are lucky to be called, of course.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I beg to move Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 6, leave out 'an'.

This is a drafting amendment which we have culled from the Scottish Development Agency Bill. Our amendment broadens the scope of this function of the Agency while at the same time retaining the ability of the Agency to act in a particular sphere according to the last few words of the paragraph. I would have thought our amendment would have been welcomed by the Government.

Mr. Barry Jones

Without malice, I have to tell the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) that the amendment is unwelcome and I advise the House to resist it.

We think that there is nothing of substance in the amendment. Terminologically speaking, I would say that the Welsh Development Agency Bill follows the Industry Bill in referring to an industry or any undertaking in an industry". It also uses words in the White Paper "The Regeneration of British Industry", namely, the words "an industry", which are to be found in paragraphs 24 and 28 of that White Paper.

I hope that I can persuade the hon. Member for Conway not to press his amendment. The Bill follows the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Act which contains in Section 2(1) the words promote or assist the reorganisation or development of any industry"— not industry at large. We could have a lengthy debate about this one word, but I hope I have persuaded the hon. Gentleman that he should not press his amendment.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

It is clear from the variety of words in the various documents mentioned by the Minister that the Government once again cannot make up their minds. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Alec Jones

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 20, at end insert— '(4A) The Agency may only exercise functions under subsection (3)(c) above through subsidiaries.'. What we are seeking to do by the amendment is to meet some of the points raised by the Opposition in Committee. From the outset we have sought to make clear that in fulfilling its industrial investment rôle the Agency will operate in the same way as any other company that is starting up or running a business.

During the recess we read again what was said by the Opposition in Committee and considered whether it would be desirable and appropriate to put more words in the Bill to clarify our intentions on this matter. As a result of our considerations I have pleasure in commending the amendment to the House.

It provides that in performing its industrial investment functions under Clause 1(3)(c) the Agency is required to operate through a subsidiary. In practice this is the sensible way in which we would expect the Agency to operate and it seems right therefore that we should stipulate this in the Bill. That is what the amendment means. It means that any companies set up by the Agency, whether wholly or partially owned, will be subject to the same rules of conduct and the same liabilities as are private companies. They will be regulated by the City code and by all the legislation that governs commercial trading activities.

I trust that the amendment will meet the points made by the Opposition in Committee. This is what they are seeking to do by their Amendment No. 25. It is the Government's view that our form of words does what is necessary in a far more effective way, and I therefore hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

I welcome the amendment, because it has a similar objective to an amendment which I tabled at the instigation of the Consultative Committee of Accountancy Bodies. In Committee the Government would not accept our case for professional audit on the ground that the Agency had a wide range of functions financed by Government funds which should be subject to the normal audit procedures. Now that the commercial activities are to be carried out through subsidiaries, I understand that the accounts of the company will, by virtue of Section 161 of the Companies Act 1948, have to be audited by professional accountants, and that meets our main objective.

My only comment is that our amendment is a little more specific in that it refers to the Companies Act. Although the Minister said that his wording was so much better, once again it must be a question of drafting, because our Scottish colleagues thought otherwise and preferred our amendment. I want confirmation from the Minister that the reference in his amendment to subsidiaries specifically brings the matter within the provisions of Section 161 of the Companies Act 1948.

Mr. Alec Jones

I am glad to give the assurance that that section of the Companies Act covers this point.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Alec Jones

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 2, line 21, leave out from 'anything' to 'or' in line 23 and insert 'whether in Wales'.

Mr. Speaker

With this we are to take Amendment No. 20, in page 2, line 22, leave out 'with the approval of the Secretary of State'.

Mr. Alec Jones

This is another amendment that has been tabled in response to representations made in Committee. We reconsidered the subsection, and as a result we have put down the amendment. Without labouring the point, unless any hon. Member wants me to elaborate further, I commend the amendment to the House in the knowledge, I trust, that it meets the requirements of the Opposition.

I must ask the House to resist Amendment No. 20 because our Amendment No. 19 does a better job.

Mr. Wigley

I accept that Amendment No. 20 is unnecessary because of the Government amendment. I welcome the Government's rethinking and I thank the Under-Secretary of State for taking note of what was said in Committee.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move Amendment No. 21, in page 2, line 29, at end insert: 'Provided that in disposing of securities, preference should be given to transferring them in a democratic manner to the ownership of the employees of the firm to which they relate'. There was considerable discussion in Committee, as there has been outside the Chamber, about the length of time and the manner in which the Agency should hold on to shares. One school of thought believes that if the Agency needs to take over shares, it should dispose of them as quickly as possible by whatever means it can.

There is the practical consideration of how many shares and how much stock value the Agency can hold, given that it has borrowing limits placed upon it under the Bill. If, working within the borrowing limits, shares that have been taken over by the Agency for good purposes—which we would welcome—have to be passed to other people, we strongly hold the view that the Government should consider passing them to the employees of the firm to which they relate. I appreciate that that may not be possible in all circumstances, and therefore we have included the term "preference should be given". It is not something that overrules all other options, but it stresses that there should be some positive thinking and that the Government should consider involving employees in the concern in which they work.

There was an interesting parallel discussion when we debated the Industry Bill last night. We discussed the need for greater industrial democracy, and the Minister, replying to the debate, said that the Government were looking for all means of experimenting with industrial democracy to try to find a formula by which workpeople could be much more involved in the decisions shaping their everyday lives. I hope that the Agency will look positively for room to experiment in this field, because I am convinced, as are some hon. Members on the Government Benches and on the Conservative Benches, too, that there must be a change in this sphere over the next few years if we are to overcome the industrial problems that have belaboured us for so long.

I hope that if the Government cannot accept the wording of the amendment they will at least give an assurance that they will seek means of involving employees where there has been a takeover of shares. This is a method of decentralising. It is a method of making sure that if there is a public stake, it is not all centralised, whether in Cardiff or London, and there is a means of passing the shares to those who are most critically affected by any decisions that are taken. I ask the Government seriously to consider the amendment.

Mr. Barry Jones

I shall advise the House to resist the amendment, but I think that everyone is attracted by what the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) said about the need for positive thinking and involving employees. The effect of the amendment would be to oblige the Agency, when disposing of securities, to give preference to employees. The Government have a great deal of sympathy with the spirit of the amendment, but I do not thing that it would be wise at the outset to tie the hands of the Agency in this way.

One of the functions of the Agency is to promote industrial democracy in undertakings that it controls, and employee shareholding is one of many ways in which that can be done. There is clearly a need for experimenting rather than laying down a specific type of scheme. I give the assurance that the Agency will be expected to play a full part in the development of forms of industrial democracy best suited to Welsh industry.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I intervene briefly to express my personal disappointment that the amendment has not been accepted by the Government. It seeks only to ensure that the Agency will give first preference to those employed in the company. We in our party are anxious to promote industrial democracy in the true sense and that entails financial control of the assets and securities of a company. We were much attracted by the recent proposals put forward by the Swedish Government, but I shall not discuss that subject now.

We are grateful for the Minister's assurance and hope that the Agency will take the point seriously and will act to promote real worker control as opposed to any waffling participation.

Sir Raymond Gower

The Minister said that the Agency could not be bound in this way, but there does not seem to be much "binding" in this proposal. It appears merely to give preference to a process which has shown its value in industry and in many well-known institutions. The Minister is aware of the success of this principle in connection with some co-operatives in which for a long time there has been an element of profit-sharing and shareholding. He will be aware of the success of the John Lewis Partnership, which derives strength from the fact that its employees hold shares in that concern. I cannot understand why the Minister should regard these provisions as putting a great burden on the Agency in these special circumstances which envisage giving the employees some preferences.

Mr. Wigley

I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division because some of the Minister's remarks give room for hope as to what will happen when the Agency is set up. I hope that the spirit of his reply will be transmitted to the Agency and that that attitude will not be forgotten. I hope that the principle of employee ownership of securities and shares will be examined.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I beg to move Amendment No. 23, in page 2, line 41, at end insert: '(but it shall not be the primary purpose of the Agency to undertake agricultural activity)';. The purpose of the amendment is to give effect to what was said by the Minister in Committee: We do not believe that it is even conceivable that the Agency would seek to manage land for agricultural purposes."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 22nd July 1975; c. 248.] An undertaking was given in Committee that the point would be carefully investigated by the Government.

The purpose of our amendment is to remove any concern in the agricultural community that this change will involve the Agency in agricultural activity. The agricultural community has expressed concern about this matter and we believe that it should be made clear in the Bill that the Government do not intend the Agency to manage agricultural land. In recent cases the Government have taken over estates and such activity has not met with marked success—in Gwynedd, for example, where the Welsh Office went in for estate management. The Undersecretary of State recently admitted this in a letter to me.

We believe that it should be made clear in the Bill that the Agency will not be an agricultural body or engage in agricultural activity. There has been considerable distrust of the present Government among the Welsh agricultural community and we do not wish to see that distrust perpetuated. If the amendment were accepted, it would make clear that the Agency's rôle is promotional as it affects industrial development, the environment and conservation in areas of dereliction, and that it is not the Agency's aim to be promotional in an agricultural sense.

6.45 p.m.

Sir Raymond Gower

I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment. In Committee the Minister said that inevitably on some occasions the Agency could conceivably acquire an industrial hereditament including some land and that it would be difficult to avoid ownership of agricultural land in that way, but the amendment avoids that difficulty by using the term "primary purpose". I accept that the amendment is not watertight, but I hope that the Minister can accept the principle behind it.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

This is a reasonable amendment and expresses a view that was touched upon in proceedings on this Bill at earlier stages and also in the proceedings on the Community Land Bill. The Land Authority for Wales will also hold land and, like the Agency, may be forced to farm it pending development. We do not want too many gentlemen farmers in the Civil Service.

Mr, Barry Jones

There are enough in the hon. Member's party already.

Mr. Roberts

The amendment expresses Parliament's intentions on this subject. However, I expect the Government to say that the amendment is unnecessary possibly because they know that the Agency may hold land and find it necessary to farm it for many years before development takes place. In certain cases it might well appear from the length of occupation that the Agency's purpose is to undertake agricultural activity, and in that event the Government may not wish to be reminded of a provision on the lines of Amendment No. 23.

Mr. Alec Jones

I regret that I must resist the amendment. In Committee I promised to look at the matter and I have done so. I appreciate that the wording of the amendment has led to a change from the use of the word "solely" to the phrase "primary purpose". My advice is that the amendment, far from helping, would make the situation slightly worse. We should find ourselves in difficulty if we were called upon to define the word "primary".

As I spelt out in Committee, nobody believes that the rôle of the Agency will lie in agricultural activities. Indeed, in Committee the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) said that there might well be limited occasions when it might be necessary for land to be acquired in order to ensure that it was efficiently managed. It is important for us to assure the agricultural interests of Wales that that is not seen as a function of the WDA. If that had been intended as one of its functions, it would have been written into the Bill. The fact that it was not included is clear evidence that the Government do not intend the Agency to indulge in agricultural activities.

Mr. Wigley

We are grateful for the Minister's assurance, but Clause 26 mentions the phrase "commercial activity", which could well include agriculture. The Minister suggested that that was not the case, but the point of our amendment is to clarify the situation.

Mr. Jones

I have already made clear how the Government see the WDA working, and agriculture is not mentioned as one of its functions. I do not believe anybody believes that the Government wish to see such a body undertake agricultural functions, because agriculture is one of the major industries of Wales. To seek to slip such a matter in by the back door would be an affront not only to agricultural interests, but to the House.

We have indicated that agriculture will not be a concern of the Agency. We have said that there might be an odd occasion—no more than that—when we would want it effectively to manage the land. The fact that we have included subsection (4) in the clause shows that we are determined that the Agency shall operate in such a way as to have regard to the requirements of agriculture and efficient land management. We have done everything possible to blow away the fears which apparently exist in the agriculture industry. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House who are in close contact with agricultural interests will ensure that the words we have uttered tonight and in Committee are brought to their attention so that their fears may be allayed.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

In view of the Under-Secretary's assurances, for which we are grateful and which will be well received by the agricultural industry, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Wigley

I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 3, line 5, at end insert: '(7) The Agency shall not normally acquire shares or stock in a company without the consent and agreement of that company; where acquisition is sought without the consent of the company, it shall be on the authority of the Secretary of State after a draft order, specifying the social reasons justifying such compulsory acquisition, has been approved by resolution of the House of Commons'. This amendment deals with a matter which has been quite controversial during the passages of this Bill and of the Industry Bill. Government Front Bench spokesmen have given assurances, in replying to probing amendments and questions from Conservative Members, that shares and interest in companies would be acquired by the Agency only when the companies gave their consent. This has been generally interpreted as referring to situations in which shares may be bought on the market—and plainly there would have to be a willing seller for the willing buyer to get his way—under the take-over code of the City of London and the safeguards which it incorporates.

In Committee I raised a point, which was not adequately met, concerning companies, such as asset strippers, which follow what can only be described as antisocial policies and which buy factories or manufacturing plant purely in order to close them and to decrease the job opportunities in an area. I should have thought that the Agency would have a particular interest in circumstances such as that and that it might well wish to intervene in a situation in which a takeover of that type might occur and to ensure that the factory or plant would not be closed. In those circumstances, the company making the take-over—the asset stripper—and about to close the factory would be a very unwilling seller, because the realisation of the money which it envisaged in taking the course of action which it proposed could be considerably greater than any value which it might receive for the shares. It would be wrong for the Government or any public body to pay the price of the shares to compensate a company which might gain benefit from asset stripping.

Therefore, there might be circumstances in which the Government should have power, albeit a closely monitored power, to intervene contrary to the wishes of the company involved. In other words, it should be possible for a compulsory takeover to occur. Such occurrences might be few and far between, and we have incorporated in the amendment the safeguard that the social reasons for such an acquisition should be specified and should be approved by resolution of the House of Commons. We appreciate that such action would have to be agreed by representatives of the people and that the social reasons for taking such action should be justified in this Chamber.

Reasons for such action can arise. I recall what happened at Cefn Coed, near Merthyr Tydfil. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick) will recall the incident. I am sure that the people employed in the factory in question would have been very happy had an agency such as the Welsh Development Agency been able to ensure that people who acted like cowboys did not have their way but that the well-being of the employees in the area was given primary consideration.

I appreciate that the amendment will not be welcomed by certain hon. Members on this side of the House, but it should be welcomed by hon. Members on the Government side and I hope that the Government will respond favourably to it.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

The amendment is deceptive because it seems at first sight to reinforce the point that the Welsh Development Agency will be able to acquire only by consent. In fact, its intention is to give the Agency power to acquire without consent in certain circumstances.

I do not propose to participate in an argument about the case which the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has advanced except to say that if there are circumstances in which the Agency should act in the way proposed they should be spelled out in a positive clause and not in this rather deceptive way by a provision which apparently attempts to do something different.

In Committee the Minister gave a clear assurance that All the agency's acquisitions of securities and other property have to be by agreement with the owner of that property. The agency as a creature of statute will have powers to do only what the Bill specifies. The Bill confers one power of compulsory acquisition only, and that is in respect of land."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 22nd July 1975; c. 233.] In my view, the amendment is unacceptable because it proposes that there should be written into the Bill the implication that there is a right of acquisition without consent. I believe that such a provision should not be written into the Bill except on a clear-cut, well-defined and specific basis.

Mr. Barry Jones

We agree with the official Opposition, and particularly the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards), about this amendment, although one can understand the strong feelings behind the argument of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). Asset stripping is socially wrong, but I wish to take this opportunity to point out that the Agency will not be able to acquire shares compulsorily and that there is no power in the Bill to enable it to do that. It will have to acquire shares with the agreement and consent of their owner or owners—in other words, the shareholders. That puts the Agency on exactly the same footing as a private company.

Some hon. Members seem anxious to ensure that the Agency does not have advantages over private industry. Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Member for Pembroke and his hon. Friends on this matter, as I tried to do in Committee. The view that the Agency should not have advantages over private industry is shared by the Government, but this should work both ways. Why should the Agency be put in a worse position than private industry? In practice, I expect that acquisitions will normally take place by agreement with the company directors and, as I said in Committee, the Agency will be required to comply fully with the letter and spirit of the City take-over code.

We all deplore the asset-stripping activities of companies, but we have no plans within this Bill to deal specifically with the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Caernarvon.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Wigley

I listened to the Minister's words carefully and he said "Within this Bill". Does he have other legislation in mind which could meet the point about asset stripping? Does he believe that the activities of companies of this sort can be dealt with in entirety by another Bill?

Mr. Jones

I must confine myself to this Bill. There are no powers in this Bill.

Mr. Wigley

I find the Under-Secretary's attitude to this matter surprising. I believe that there will be circumstances in the coming months and years when members of the Labour Party in many parts of Wales will look for the sort of powers that we have tried to include in our amendment. Some hon. Members will take the view that companies may be riding roughshod and that there is not enough social concern. They will look to the Agency for help, but they will do so in vain, because the Agency will not have the powers. They will look elsewhere to see whether there is an alternative, but they will find that there are no alternatives. The Under-Secretary was unable to point to any alternative means of dealing with this problem although he has admitted that the problem exists and crops up from time to time. That means that unless we build something into the Bill there will be no provision. The problem exists, but the House is either unwilling or unable to do anything about it. I find this extremely regrettable. In my view, given the right sort of safeguards, this type of provision should be built into a Bill of this sort.

If the Government had the social con science that is necessary to face the speculators and directors who play cow boys with industry—as has happened in more than one place—they would respond to the situation. For that reason it is with regret—

Mr. John Morris

The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) is adopting a "holier than thou" attitude. If the hon. Gentleman wanted a provision in the Bill stating that there should be powers of compulsory acquisition he should have tabled a specific provision so that there could be a specific debate on that issue. He should not try to do it by the back door, by tabling an amendment on the basis of something which is not in the Bill, seeking to put in some hypothetical safeguards. He is not facing the situation fairly and squarely.

Mr. Wigley

That is a load of hypocrisy and cant, because in Committee it was unclear to hon. Members and other people exactly what the powers would be in terms of acquisition. Under-Secretary after Under-Secretary emphasised that there would be no compulsory acquisition, because people believed that there was going to be. It was not until we reached the Committee stage that the matter was clarified.

Mr. John Morris

If the hon. Gentleman had paid attention he would know that from the publication of the Bill it was made abundantly clear time after time that there were no powers of compulsory acquisition. It may be that he was unable to read, did not want to read, or, indeed, misunderstood the Bill. I recall how he poured cold water and scorn on the Bill and described it as a glorified derelict land agency. He failed to read or understand the Bill. Now he is seeking, by the back door, to do something that it not provided for at all.

Mr. Wigley

It is unfortunate that the Secretary of State for Wales does not have as good a memory as the Prime Minister. It was not the Bill that I described in that way but the Government's intention to introduce the Bill before the details were specified.

On what happened in Committee, I point out that I attended many more sittings than the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I and my hon. Friends involved ourselves in the details of the Bill.

In any event, to put an amendment down at this stage cannot be described as a back-door method, because it deals with something that came to light in Committee. The amendment is specific. It provides the powers which the Government, for their own reasons, are unwilling to accept. I find it strange that a Labour Government are unwilling to accept these powers, but no doubt they have their reasons. Presumably they have come to some agreement with the City, or whoever, that they will not have any compulsory take-overs. They can fight their battles in the trade unions and the left wing of their party at a later stage.

These powers are needed if the social problems allied with asset stripping are to be met. However, because of the deficiencies in the Bill these problems will not be met. However many back doors, side windows, or whatever the Secretary of State may go through, he is not facing the problem. He will have to deal with the problem because he has not buried it at this stage.

Amendment negatived.

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