§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Berry.]
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Nicholas Edwards)
At the outset I should like to thank all those from all parties, and especially my predecessor as Secretary of State, for their expressions of good will to myself and my colleagues on the Government Bench as we undertake our responsibilities. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries are being received by Her Majesty this evening but will be in the House very shortly.
I should like to welcome the newcomers to our Welsh debates and those who have returned after an absence. I hope that I shall be allowed to offer a special welcome to my hon. Friends the Members for Anglesey (Mr. Best), Montgomery (Mr. Williams) and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson), whose victories represent the changing tide of opinion in Wales.
My hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey especially will, I think, be conscious that he follows in the footsteps of an outstanding parliamentarian, respected in all parts of this House, but by the manner of his own great victory and the modesty with which he received it he has already indicated that he has a valuable contribution to make in his own right. I am also very pleased to see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who, if challenged as to his credentials to take part in our discussions, may, I suspect, be tempted to reply in his native Welsh.
This is the first Welsh day debate that we have had on the Floor of the House of Commons for two and a half years. The fact that we are holding it so early in the life of the new Parliament is a symbol of our intention to fulfil our manifesto commitment to improve the parliamentary arrangements for the supervision of government in Wales.
Despite our repeated protests, the last Government abandoned the long-established practice of holding these debates. They failed to give Welsh Members the opportunity in the Chamber to discuss the issues that they really wished to discuss 1130 and that the Welsh people wished them to discuss. Instead, they occupied the time of the House of Commons in considering proposals for devolution which, when they had the opportunity, the Welsh people dismissed with derision.
Seldom in our history has any Administration so misjudged the mood and desires of the people whom they were elected to represent and to serve. The elephant that the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) was finally forced to recognise was seen trampling around Wales, visible and audible to most of us for a decade or more.
I now turn to consider the way in which we should proceed in the light of that referendum decision. Of course, we are committed to the repeal of the Wales Act, and the House will be given an early opportunity to debate the draft order for repeal, but in the aftermath of the referendum we are all, I think, entitled and perhaps wise to pause and take stock. I want to spell out the principles on which I am basing my thinking.
I identify three broad strands. First, I take the relationship of the central Government with local government. Here I am anxious to improve the machinery for consultation, and I am determined that responsibility and decision making should rest clearly, as far as is practically possible, close to the people.
I believe that there has been too much interference by the Welsh Office with the day-to-day management of local authorities and, indeed, with other bodies that have been given responsibility for executive action, such as area health authorities. I have already given instructions that will very substantially reduce the number of circulars issued, the scale of interference and the part played by Welsh Office Ministers.
The second strand which I identify is the one spelt out with clarity in our Welsh manifesto—the desire to improve parliamentary scrutiny over the operation of government and its institutions. I am determined to press on along that line, though it may well make my task and that of my Department more difficult. This debate today is an earnest of our intentions. We shall also be holding some additional meetings of the Welsh Grand Committee to debate the annual reports of 1131 the nominated bodies, and we shall be giving Parliament the opportunity to consider proposals for the setting up of a Welsh Select Committee.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Welsh Grand Committee has the potential for far more effective use, including, for example, consideration of Welsh Estimates and many other matters?
§ Mr. Edwards
I shall welcome suggestions in all these areas.
The third area that I identify is that of consultation. My predecessor will be only too well aware of the very large number of organisations and individuals anxious and, indeed, entitled to proffer advice. That advice is valuable, and I shall continue to meet frequently with appropriate organisations. I have already met representatives of the Wales TUC and the CBI and made clear that my door would be open to them.
But there is a need, I think, to reexamine the more formal mechanisms for consultation and advice and, in particular, to reconsider the role of the Welsh Council. I believe that Wales—and, indeed, the House—owes a great debt to the Council for much hard work over many years. It has played a most valuable part in contributing to the discussion of economic and social policy in Wales during the period that decision making on Welsh affairs has been shifting from Whitehall to Cardiff. We are all especially grateful to Sir Melvyn Rosser and his colleagues for continuing this work at a time when inevitably the Council's future was uncertain in the context of the devolution debate.
Both the Wales TUC and the CBI have views on these issues, and I shall consider them carefully. I should also, as I have just said, welcome suggestions from local authorities, right hon. and hon. Members, and others, whether they are advanced in the course of this debate or subsequently.
The Welsh Council has done valuable work in the past, but, for reasons which we all know, it has passed through a period of inactivity. It is time for its future role or that of any successor body to be clearly defined.
In our Welsh manifesto we told the people of Wales that we should come 1132 into a bleak inheritance, and that is precisely what we have found. The Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined yesterday the overall economic situation: manufacturing output last year 4 per cent. down on 1973; productivity in manufacturing industry up by only a miserable ½ per cent. a year over the same period; high interest rates based on excessive borrowing penalising industry; overseas debts of over £20 billion; retail prices rising sharply, and, of course, those price rises coming on top of what has gone before, the worst inflation of any industrial country except Italy; living standards only prevented from sharp falls by North Sea oil; and the balance of payments, despite the forecasts of the previous Chancellor and despite the massive £3,500 million contribution of North Sea oil, barely in balance.
Perhaps most serious was a prospect of economic growth that could not possibly have sustained the expenditure planned by the previous Government.
When, on the Sunday after the election, I opened my brief for the first time I found that I had inherited massive problems, economic and social. I shall describe some of them. Others, including education, I shall leave to my hon. Friend should he catch the eye of the Chair later this evening.
The facts of the unemployment situation were, of course, known to me, but the prospects appear even more gloomy than I had feared. Unemployment had risen from 38,000 when we left office to 101,000 last summer, and even today at 83,000 it stands at more than three times what it was in the mid-1960s, and about one-third higher than for the United Kingdom as a whole. The ratio between unemployment in Wales and the rest of Great Britain has been worsening. Two years ago the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 1.29 times the Great Britain average; it is now 1.41 times.
The number of school leavers unable to find work has risen alarmingly, and, although the majority of the 16,000 school leavers who were out of work last summer have found jobs, the fact is that even in March, the traditional low point of the year, the number of school leavers seeking work was about four and a half times that of 1975.
§ Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)
Do not those figures argue the case for 1133 a strong and advancing youth opportunities programme? How will those school leavers be assisted if the funds available for that programme are substantially cut back?
§ Mr. Edwards
I shall say something in a moment about the economic policies that I believe are needed, but first I should point out that even more depressing than the harsh facts which I have just retailed was the discovery that the underlying trend in Wales is considered to be still unfavourable. Admittedly, estimates and projections in this field are notably unreliable, but I certainly did not think it cheering to find that on present trends and without changes of policy Welsh unemployment levels could be expected to increase remorselessly, with more and more people coming on to the labour market.
Too much significance should not be placed on one factor, and, of course, there will be changes of policy, but these depressing and alarming indications were confirmed by my talks last week with the CBI, which, despite a temporarily more cheerful business intentions survey, foresaw a rising level of unemployment again next autumn.
In reality, the increase will inevitably come sooner, because the gloomy legacy that I have been describing is what this year's school leavers, about 41,500 of them, will have to contend with. I fear that as a result the summer and autumn unemployment figures for Wales will once again show a sharp upturn. It will take longer than a few months for the measures which we shall introduce to produce an improvement.
This inheritance and the short-term problems it poses have to be set against a pattern of major structural change, demanding replacement jobs as the historic industries decline. We have seen new industrial development, and this has been welcome, but it simply has not been fast enough to keep pace with the jobs lost or the increase in the numbers seeking work. Hon. Members are probably aware that the labour force is expected to grow by over 110,000 by 1986.
In steel we witnessed a substantial downturn in employment with closures at East Moors and Ebbw Vale alone amounting to a total of over 4,900. Those involved in the industry will know that 1134 the British Steel Corporation is planning a further overall reduction of manpower in the next year or so as part of its policy to reduce employment costs. The Corporation has for this year indicated to the unions a requirement to reduce manpower by around 3,000. Given the need to become fully competitive, the Corporation considers that this process is likely to continue.
The Corporation has, of course, shown its faith in the industry in Wales by substantial investments for the future—the coatings complex at Shotton, officially opened last week, and the continuous casting scheme involving about £90 million announced for Port Talbot earlier this year. The hopes for the future that these sizeable investments represent must be tempered by a concern for steel-making as a whole, at a time when in Great Britain, as in other steel-making countries, steel-making capacity outstrips demand.
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport)
I appreciate the Secretary of State's concern about the future of the steel industry. Is he aware that there is concern among steel workers, especially bearing in mind the threats that have been made against some of our publicly owned industries by the Government? I noted that on 19th January 1977 the Secretary of State voted in support of a Bill to denationalise the steel industry. Will he and his colleagues be consistent? I noted that in the vote to which I have referred the right hon. Gentleman was supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Industry. The right hon. Gentleman should be aware that those in the industry are concerned.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman knows that we put forward no proposals in our manifesto to denationalise the steel industry as a whole. We are concerned, as I hope are all hon. Members on both sides of the House, to have a strong and viable industry that will be able to withstand the difficult conditions in which it is operating.
The coal industry provides employment for about 28,600 in Wales. Since 1974, we need to remind ourselves, about 2,600 jobs have been lost, including the closure of seven pits. It is against that background that we must approach the 1135 report of the tripartite sub-committee set up by the previous Administration—a report published only a few weeks before the general election.
The report merits the most careful study and we must allow ample time to set it in perspective in terms of both the national economy and energy requirements in the future and the implications for those areas in Wales still dependent to such a great extent on employment in coal mining. The report, which was agreed by the industry, the unions and the previous Administration, makes for pessimistic reading in parts, certainly as regards job prospects in some areas even at the levels of Exchequer support implied.
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the report of the tripartitie sub-committee gave hope that there would be investment forthcoming from the Government. We have heard in the past few days of the closure of the Deep Dyffryn pit, in Mountain Ash, in my constituency. Another more important matter raised in the report is financial support for the Phurnacite plant. Will the right hon. Gentleman give urgent consideration to that? Will he give sympathetic consideration to providing capital to invest in the industry?
§ Mr. Edwards
Clearly, coal has an important role to play in energy requirements in future, and it is in that spirit that we are giving urgent consideration to the recommendations contained in the report. I have already arranged with the Minister of State who is responsible to pay an early visit to the South Wales coalfield to discuss these matters. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Deep Dyffryn mine has been closed under the normal closure procedures within the industry. In that sense the Government have not intervened any more than previous Administrations. The Phurnacite plant, which has environmental problems, is referred to in detail in the report. That is a matter to which we shall be giving urgent and serious consideration.
I refer briefly to North-West Wales. There is the problem that will arise in 1981–82 when work on the Dinorwic pumped storage scheme is expected to be completed. Welcome as this massive constructional project has been, it will provide 1136 only about 100 permanent jobs. A high proportion of the 2,400 men now employed on the project are local men and they will be seeking alternative work. I assure hon. Members representing that part of Wales that we shall be considering the report of the conference that considered these matters. In deciding what action may be taken, we shall consider the report carefully.
There has, of course, been very welcome news for North Wales today with the announcement by Hotpoint that it is to invest £18 million in an expansion at Rhyl which could eventually provide 900 jobs. I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in wishing this project well.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that there will be rapid progress with the road schemes serving North Wales, especially the A5 and the A55, as that is essential if we are to get the jobs to replace those that have been lost elsewhere?
§ Mr. Edwards
I shall talk about roads later, and I shall give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.
I am in the hands of the House, but this is a brief debate and if I give way to every hon. Member who wishes to intervene that may curtail those who want to make a speech. It may be helpful to the House if I do not give way quite so often and I allow my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to reply at the end of the debate.
There is a clear and paramount need for more jobs. In recent years we have heard a great deal about the activities of the Welsh Development Agency, about the increase in the number of inquiries and visits by industrialists looking for sites and premises in Wales and about the greater numbers and better quality of projects for which support was being sought under section 7 of the Industry Act. And, of course, all this was true.
However, we must look at these indicators against the background of our problems. Take advance factories as an example. The 100 formal allocations promised only just over 5,000 jobs—and those jobs would build up over a period of some years. I do not deny the importance of 5,000 jobs, but at that 1137 rate it would take us eight years merely to halve the number currently unemployed in Wales, without taking into account the need to replace jobs that will continue to be lost in the older industries and to provide jobs for the huge increase in prospect in the number of people in the working age group.
Advance factories and the other panoply of direct handouts to industry in the regions provide only part of the answer to the needs of those regions. My predecessor said time and time again that the economic fortunes of Wales are dependent on those of the United Kingdom as a whole—indeed, also on international considerations. I agree with him. It is for that reason that as its first priority the Government will put forward measures to revive the economy, stimulate enterprise and job creation and encourage small firms. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor will have that as his central objective.
In particular we must find ways of consolidating the contribution which small businesses make to our economic prosperity. After all, in 1976—the most recent year for which detailed information is available—nearly 134,000 were employed in firms of fewer than 10 workers or, taking a larger definition, over half the total employees in employment were in firms employing fewer than 200 people.
We have the example of the United States, given yesterday by the Chancellor, to encourage us where two-thirds of new firms and new jobs come from those employing fewer than 20 people and as many as four-fifths come from firms less than five years old. The role of small firms will be central to our strategy.
At the same time we recognise that there will be a continuing need for an effective regional policy to reduce the disparity between the richer and the less prosperous regions of the United Kingdom. We recognise the need for continuity and confidence and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry made clear on Monday, we wish to avoid sudden, disruptive changes of the context within which industry bases its decisions.
While, as I have stated, we propose vigorous action to change the economic climate, I have also made it clear that 1138 when I come to consider the institutions of government in Wales I will be pragmatic and undramatic in my approach. I do not propose change for change's sake. If institutions are working we will retain them. If, in the light of experience, they need modification, we shall modify them. It may be some comfort to the Opposition that though I think there is much that requires doing, I am not one of those who believes that there is virtue to be gained simply by destroying what one's predecessors have created. I am happy to use any institution handed down to me. We have made it clear that we will retain the WDA and the DBRW, though in our manifesto we said that we wished to see safeguards over their powers to buy into profitable firms and to ensure that the agencies will not hold equity shareholdings in individual firms on a permanent basis. We will see that those safeguards are introduced.
We have the same approach to the work of the Development Board for Rural Wales in its task of ensuring a sensitive and planned development of industry in existing towns and settlements in Mid-Wales. We will seek to do all we can to develop further a sound economic and employment base in the rural areas of Wales. I have no doubt that in this the Board will have an effective contribution to make.
Turning to agriculture, we made clear in our manifesto our very great concern about the state of this vital industry which has suffered from the effects of the last Government's policies, particularly from the penal tax structure which they operated. It is this Government's firm intention to ensure that the industry is on a sound and healthy footing, and we shall be pursuing our negotiations with our EEC partners with that aim very clearly in mind.
With regard to the immediate negotiations on CAP prices, we of course share the Commission's anxiety to attack the Community's structural surpluses: that is why we shall continue to support the Commission's proposals for a price freeze. But the elimination of surpluses and waste must not be achieved by protecting inefficient Continental producers at the expense of this country's efficient industry. Therefore, we shall seek to ensure that the Commission's proposals are considerably modified, so that they do not 1139 discriminate against our producers, and this applies particularly to the milk industry. Welsh farmers can thus be reassured that this Government are well aware of their anxieties in this connection and will be doing everything possible to safeguard their interests.
We also made it clear in our manifesto that we intended to do something to help those who live and farm in our upland areas, and in this I of course include the marginal land areas. When in Opposition, we constantly prodded the Government to tackle these problem areas so as to alleviate the difficulties faced by many of those who farm them—all to very little avail. I very much regret that the previous Government did not act sooner in setting up the inquiry into marginal land. I have not yet had time to consider in detail how we shall move forward, but I can assure the House that I will be giving it my attention as soon as possible. And in considering the uplands we shall not overlook the need further to develop the forestry of Wales.
The farmers' unions are a very important force in our agriculture industry in Wales and I am sure hon. Members on both sides will share my regret that the NFU in Wales and the FUW have not been able to reach agreement on the integration of their efforts. But I am glad to note their intention of working together in the best interests of agriculture in Wales. I need hardly add that the Welsh Office will continue to work closely with them. Certainly there will be no attempt by me to bully them about these arrangements.
I want to say a word about the Welsh fishing industry. I am all too well aware of the dreadful decline—indeed, almost disappearance—of the industry in Wales over the past few years. After all, the major fishing port in decline is in my own constituency. I know that there are new projects and others are being looked at—developments and initiatives which need to be encouraged. Much remains to be done, because there is little doubt in my mind that the traditional fishing ports of Wales, properly encouraged and guided, could become viable again, and it is my intention to see that this industry will receive every help that I reasonably and properly can give it.
I turn now to the Health Service, with which I couple the personal social services. 1140 Here, too, the previous Administration left behind a host of problems. It was elected on the basis of a manifesto promise that it would revise and expand the Health Service. But what has happened? There has been more industrial unrest in the past five years than in all of the preceding 26 years of the Health Service. Morale has been at rock bottom. Waiting lists have lengthened dismally in many areas. Let no one pretend that industrial action has not damaged the interests of patients generally.
The stimulus which the last Conservative Administration gave to better services for the mentally handicapped has not been maintained, despite all the fine words. To some extent the basic trouble has been a much lower growth rate in health and personal social services expenditure over recent years. Contrast the average 4 per cent. growth rate in Wales during the last Conservative Government with the average of 2½ per cent. achieved since 1974. The decline had to follow from the central economic misconceptions of the Labour Administration and it will be a long hard haul to reverse it.
The fact is that health authorities have been working on a continuously tightening rein. Most authorities in Wales have had no additional growth funds for their own discretionary use over the past two or three years during a period when they have required to absorb the costs of many new Government policies and legislation without the provision of funds to meet them and when demands have been rising, mainly because of the increasing numbers of the very old. Overspending in some areas have been avoided only by the injection of funds for one year, only made available by transfers from other functions of the Welsh Office.
And now the chickens have come home to roost. The year 1979–80 will be the most difficult from a financial point of view for the Health Service in Wales since its inception. The requirement announced in February that authorities should absorb a part of pay and price increases this year is likely effectively to reduce the original growth rate for health authority current expenditure from 2 per cent. to less than 1 per cent. And the provision for 1980–81 set out in the last White Paper on public expenditure would permit a growth rate of only about ½ per cent. Over 1979–80. So let there be no 1141 doubt where the blame for the Health Service's financial troubles lies. It rests with the previous Administration who, after five years in power, planned for the future an even lower growth rate than it achieved in the past. It was an inevitable consequence of its economic policies.
Most of the available money for the current year had already been distributed when I came into office. In the little room left to my immediate discretion—the allocation of a further £ 2 million—I have sought to offset the cash limits squeeze as fully as possible. The sum of £ 1.7 million has been shared out to this end and in the small margin left I have, as pledged in our manifesto, given further help to the two authorities long shown to be least well provided. On the capital front, I do not propose to disrupt the programme for the current financial year which my predecessor had set in train, and planning already under way for major hospital developments over the next few years is continuing.
I intend that the structure of the Health Service shall be simplified and that decisions shall be taken locally wherever possible. This will help towards better use of resources. It will no doubt be prudent for decisions on major structural changes to await the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Health Service, but I see no reason why thinking should not at least begin straight away. What I shall certainly put into practice immediately is the principle of letting the man on the job get on with it. Central intervention and interference in the responsibilities of health authorities is no way to promote more efficient services to the patient.
I turn to housing. The depressing statistics are so well known that I hardly need quote them. The 1976 house condition survey showed that 100,000, that is 10 per cent. of the total housing stock, was unfit and that 140,000, that is, nearly 14 per cent., lacked some basic amenities. The position is much worse in Wales than in England. In England the percentage of unfitness in the 1976 survey was only 5 per cent. and only some 9 per cent. of dwellings lacked basic amenities. Generally, Welsh local authorities have not been using the resources allocated to them to meet this challenge.
The Conservative Government will attack the housing problem on two fronts. 1142 The aspiration of Welsh people is to own their own homes. Nearly 60 per cent. are owner-occupied now. I read earlier this week that, according to one survey, nearly 40 per cent. of young marrieds want to buy their council houses. I was glad last week to give permission for greater discounts to help them to do this. The last Government tried to restrict this aspiration. As a result, on 3 May the knell for them sounded on council estates throughout Wales.
The second attack is through the rehabilitation of older property, often privately owned. That will be one of our prime objectives. Two steps are necessary. Grants have to be applied to a positive programme to save houses, and individual householders have to be encouraged to undertake the work. Many authorities take no initiatives to encourage private owners to improve their houses. But a positive example is set by Newport borough council, which runs a package scheme under which it will advise householders on work that needs to be done and how best to get it carried out. I hope that the change to Labour there will leave that policy at least intact.
Housing is of crucial importance to Wales. I think that Members of all parties would agree that its condition is very unsatisfactory. We need a change of policy, and change has already started.
I want to say a word about the Land Authority for Wales. We believe that the Community Land Act 1975 as a whole has been a failure and that repeal of the Act is the right course. As to the Land Authority, we are committed in our manifesto to consulting the building industry and the local authorities in Wales about whether there is a need for a Land Authority, as an assembler of land, without some of the powers provided in the Act. I shall carry out these consultations as soon as possible and until then shall keep an open mind on the future of the Authority.
§ Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)
In reference to the powers of the Land Authority, will the Secretary of State also keep an open mind in respect of those if he finds that there is a desire on the part of industry and local authorities that some form of powers such as the Land Authority at present possesses should be maintained?
§ Mr. Edwards
I was careful in the words that I used. I deliberately left room for consideration. But I do not think we can have a position in which powers are wholly different in Wales from what they are in the rest of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be referring to communications in the Principality should he be fortunate enough to catch your eye a little later, Mr. Speaker. For the moment, let me take up the point put to me a few moments ago. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon has made much of his progress with the M4 and the A55, but I find that the completion dates for stages of both these vital projects are alarmingly far into the future. There is a massive programme of work to be done. I reiterate our manifesto pledge that we shall give priority to the completion of these important east-west links and other key roads.
As Conservatives we are, of course, concerned for the survival of a unique culture and language. That is why, in the past, we have done so much to support the Welsh language. In 1953 we issued recommendations about bilingualism in Welsh schools. In 1963 we set up the Hughes-Parry committee on the Welsh language and we firmly supported the legislation which was the outcome of its recommendations. We gave the first Government grants to assist the publication of books in Welsh and made the first grants to Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin. We appointed the Bowen committee on bilingual road signs and established the Welsh Language Council. A Private Member's Bill, introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Thomas), made it possible for Welsh local authorities to give general assistance to the Royal National Eisteddfod.
Our Welsh manifesto states quite unequivocally that we shall continue to give active Government support to the maintenance of the Welsh language as a living tongue. That commitment was reiterated in the Gracious Speech from the Throne last week. It is in that context, as the Leader of the House said a few minutes ago, that we are giving consideration to the question of specific grant towards the cost of bilingual education in Wales. We raised some pertinent questions on the last Government's proposal but made it 1144 clear, nevertheless, that we could see merit in it. It is in that spirit that I am now looking very carefully but urgently at this matter.
Television and, to a lesser extent perhaps, radio broadcasting have a major influence in the everyday life of the people of Wales. Our clear intention is to press ahead with plans for Welsh language broadcasting on the fourth channel. There is certainly every present reason to suppose that this could be achieved as quickly as the previous Administration would have been able to put their cumbersome plans into effect, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that our intentions would result in less broadcasting in Welsh.
It is our aim that on an agreed basis both broadcasting authorities should produce Welsh language programmes on the new channel. I recognise that in that situation there would have to be some means of co-ordinating the programme input of the BBC and the IBA's programme contractor in Wales.
I must emphasise, though, that we are in a new situation with regard to the fourth channel in the United Kingdom, since we propose to allocate it, subject to strict safeguards, to the IBA. Clearly there is much to discuss with and between the authorities. But these are all matters for consultation, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has the responsibility for them, is anxious to proceed with this consultation as rapidly as possible.
I have described the massive problems that I have inherited—economic stagnation, high unemployment and social decay. In the Welsh Grand Committee in June last year, the then Secretary of State said:We have transformed the situation we inherited four years ago."—[Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 28 June 1978; c. 14.]Unfortunately, he has transformed it for the worst. It is against a background of low productivity and low output that we shall have to tackle enormously difficult problems in the coal and steel industries, deal with a Health Service under strain, seek to improve our housing stock, and provide for social needs in a country undergoing major structural change.
I am conscious that I shall need widespread support and understanding. I am 1145 also conscious of the fact that despite our political differences we are all desperately anxious to improve the lot of the Welsh people.
A letter from a former Member of this House brought that point home to me with special force. I was particularly pleased to receive a letter of congratulations and good wishes from Mr. Gwynoro Jones, the former Labour Member for Carmarthen, who reminded me of the manner in which we had co-operated together from time to time in the interests of the people of West Wales. He said that itillustrates how politicians can work together for the good of all".I tell the House now that I shall never be slow to co-operate with others, from whatever party they may come, and it is in that spirit that I shall seek to serve the Welsh people.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)
I join the Secretary of State for Wales in welcoming the new Members from all parts of Wales to our debate. We look forward to hearing from them and to debating with them. I also join in paying tribute to those who were Members of this House, not only from the Labour Party but from other parties. We shall miss good friends in all parts of the House who were not returned at the general election. They all served Wales well in their own way, and we shall really miss them.
I have already privately congratulated—and now do so publicly—the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales and his two Under-Secretaries of State on their assumption of office. Their responsibility is a heavy one. The office of the Secretary of State—set up by a Labour Government—is an honourable one. He will find it a demanding and a stimulating office, perhaps the more demanding and stimulating because one is so close—at least, I hope I was—to the people of all parts of Wales. I hope that he will enjoy his office and that he will make the most of it, because a Conservative Secretary of State is a temporary aberration, and we shall return soon to having a Labour Secretary of State.
Indeed, I think that I am the best shop steward for the Welsh Tories that they have ever had, because it is partially—I would not say wholly—as a result of 1146 my criticism over the years that hitherto no Welsh Tory elected by the people of Wales has ever been allowed to serve in the Welsh Office. I hope that in due course those right hon. and hon. Members from Wales who have now been entrusted for the first time with posts in the Welsh Office will perhaps send me a small contribution as their shop steward over the years.
The Secretary of State said that having a debate so early in this Session was an earnest of the Government's intention to have consultation and participation. We have now just two hours left for debate. If that is an earnest of the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, he must do very much better. I hope that he will tell the Leader of the House that it is our expectation that there will be a proper Welsh day before the end of July. I find it very odd for the right hon. Gentleman to set himself on the pedestal of a Welsh debate while ensuring that the debate on the Adjournment takes place on the same day.
As I have said, if that is an earnest of the Government's intentions, it is not much. Let us compare it with the Labour Government's record. We legislated—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did not welcome our legislation—for the Welsh Development Agency, the Land Authority and the Development Board for Rural Wales and brought in other legislation which concerned the people of Wales, such as the Wales Act. When one compares the hours devoted to Welsh affairs by the Labour Government with the two and three-quarter hours we have today, the right hon. Gentleman must do very much better.
We shall, of course, watch the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues closely. We shall criticise them where it is right so to do and we shall also support them where necessary. It is difficult, I know, for me to imagine a situation where I shall support them, but I can assure the House, looking at the matter as objectively as I can, and having had the doubtful honour of sitting on this side of the House in the past, that I shall certainly be looking very carefully at what they do.
I can give the Government one assurance, and that is that we will not be 1147 petulant. We will not take up the parrot-like cry of the right hon. Gentleman when he used to beat his breast and screech from this side of the House and demand my resignation month after month. Indeed, the time might come—though I think it will be against the rules of the House—when I should be accused of tedious repetition if I were to do as the right hon. Gentleman used to do month after month.
I hope that we shall elevate the argument in the course of our discussions, and I look forward to the many meetings we shall have with one another. I hope that we shall not try to give nicknames to one another, as was the practice of the right hon. Gentleman. There is a better way, a more objective, distinguished and cultivated way, of conducting an argument. So we shall learn and try not to imitate the right hon. Gentleman.
I was interested in what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about local government. He said that there will be fewer circulars, less interference and less action by Welsh Office Ministers. Perhaps he could tell us—maybe put a paper in the Library—what kind of circulars, interference and actions by Welsh Office Ministers in the past seem to have interfered with local government and will no longer continue.
Local government will not be concerned with the actions of Ministers or with circulars but with the money they are to receive and what the level of the rate support grant will be. This was a question I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman can cut circulars until he is blue in the face, but if he is going to cut rate support grant, allow services to be drastically cut back and allow staggering increases in the rates, I can assure him that from my experience Welsh local government will not give him a ha'porth of thanks. That is the reality of the matter.
You, Mr. Speaker, knowing, as you do, that I come from Cardiff, will be aware of my concern regarding money. It is not circulars, actions or intervention that concern Welsh ratepayers and Welsh local government, but the amount of money they will not be getting from this Government.
1148 Without being unduly modest, I thought that my question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer was a pertinent one. I asked the Chancellor what effect he anticipated his policies would have on the rates. I know he was not able to answer, but I am sure that the Secretary of State for Wales will exercise whatever pressure and influence he has with the Chancellor so that he can make it abundantly clear and beyond peradventure in the Budget on 12 June. We shall be dying to know what the effect on the rates will be.
Regarding the Welsh Council, I join the right hon. Gentleman in his kind thanks to a very old friend, Sir Melvyn Rosser, for his distinguished role and the advice that he and his council gave. The right hon. Gentleman will have been advised, I am sure, that I have also begun discussions with some of the bodies in Wales on the future of the Welsh Council. We look forward to the proposal that may be forthcoming. Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to a conclusion, he might wish to have that matter debated in the House or in the Welsh Grand Committee so that he can hear the views of hon. Members before reaching a decision.
As they have given time for this debate so early in this Session, I should have thought that the Government would have had something dramatic to say which had not been said during the general election campaign. Time after time we asked where the axe was to fall on public expenditure in Wales. From the beginning to the end of the election campaign, we did not have an answer from the right hon. Gentleman or any of his friends. I should have thought that today, they themselves having made a virtue of it and chosen this debate, at last all would have been revealed and we would have been told precisely where the axe was to fall.
The right hon. Gentleman is, I know, an expert on the pork barrel. Are we to assume, having heard the Chancellor yesterday, that Wales is to have some special place in the sun and that the public expenditure axe is not to fall on Wales? If that is so for education, housing, health, steel, coal, the Welsh Development Agency and our roads, we immediately congratulate and support the right hon. Gentleman on having won the first fight in the Cabinet to ensure that Wales is excluded from public expenditure cuts.
1149 If that is the right assumption, we can close the debate and go home and there will be great jubilation throughout the House. However, the right hon. Gentleman has not made that clear. Therefore, I presume, he having said nothing at all about the way the Chancellor is to bring his axe down on public expenditure, that Wales will be treated in exactly the same way as England—or perhaps worse.
One of the obligations of the Secretary of State for Wales is to make quite clear where he stands regarding the statement made by the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 19 March when he was in Opposition, when he said that he wished public expenditure to return to the level of 1977–1978. If that is the object of the exercise, it would mean a very draconian cut indeed in Wales. I have totalled it up and it would come to a reduction of approximately £108 million—give or take a million or two. Agriculture, fisheries and food, £6 million; trade, industry and employment, £28 million; roads and transport, £11 million; housing, £15 million; environmental services, £16 million; education, £6 million; health and social services, £26 million. If that is the object of the exercise, the sooner we are told the better.
We tried, in the course of the election campaign, to help the Conservative Party and drew up a draft Budget which would have been less painful than the draconian steps suggested by the present Financial Secretary—a 2½ per cent. cut in the first year and 5 per cent. thereafter. Of course, we were only guessing. We still do not know. The people of Wales were only guessing, but at some stage they are entitled to be told. I thought that in choosing this debate today that was what the right hon. Gentleman was going to do.
§ Mr. Morris
Normally I would, but this is a very short debate. The hon. Gentleman knows well that I always give way, but on this occasion I will not do so, though I shall try to be as brief as I can.
If Wales has not been shielded, let us turn to the right hon. Gentleman's own particular pork barrel—the one which he persuaded the electors of Pembroke would give great help for the Cleddau bridge. Three days before the October 1974 election, 1150 I think he was reported as saying, with all the authority of a Conservative Front Bench spokesman, that there would be no tolls if there was a Conservative Government. We want to know whether that statement is to be honoured or not.
In the Tory manifesto this time it was rather different. It said that there would be help for ratepayers because the bridge was an unfair burden which the Government inspector had recommended should be transferred from the ratepayers to the Exchequer.
It is my duty immediately to declare an interest as a ratepayer of Dyfed. I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman is also a ratepayer in Dyfed. Therefore, I have a great interest in knowing at the earliest opportunity what help I shall get as a ratepayer in Dyfed, and when. We had the trumpeting of the Chancellor yesterday, and if Wales is not to be shielded generally I want to know whether Dyfed will be shielded particularly and whether we shall get a share of whatever is going. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman is to honour his commitment, and if the pork barrel that we are all desirous of sharing is to manifest itself, the right hon. Gentleman, in fairness to his own electors and to ratepayers generally, should tell us what the situation is and from where the money will come. Will it come from the rest of Welsh Office expenditure? Will it come from the Welsh road funds?
If that is so, there is not much hope for the aims and ambitions of the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts). In his local paper, the North Wales Weekly News, he said that the coast road plan is on top of the list. Will the hon. Gentleman pay for the Cleddau bridge by the delaying of the A55? We should be told. I hope that when winding up the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts), who has no particular interest in either the Cleddau bridge or the A55, with his usual objectivity will come clean and tell us whether there is any money in the till at all.
I was interested to hear the comments of the Secretary of State that he will be pragmatic about the institutions that we set up, that he will not demolish them but will consider their role and see how effective they are. I am reminded of the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends when we set up the 1151 Welsh Development Agency. I remember how they fought against it bitterly and how they made it as difficult as possible to get time in order to debate the setting up of the agency. Now, of course, Daniel has come to judgment with a slight U-turn. But I expect that there will be many other U-turns during the present Government's period of office, not unlike the previous Tory Administration.
There is one thing that the Secretary of State must make quite clear. We are told that the investment functions of the National Enterprise Board will be clipped. That will not exactly be the sale of the century. I concede that that cannot be done overnight, unless one sells the pictures off the wall in order to redeem the promise of lower taxation.
There are firms all over Wales in which there are WDA investments and which want to know how they will be treated if major NEB investments are to be sold off. What will be the measure and scale of the sell-off of WDA investments? Will it mean stopping the WDA exercising its role of being able to take up other investments in firms? Let me give a quick run-down of the firms in which there are WDA investments. There are P. Leiner in Treforest; Myson Radiators in Cardiff; Ryan; John Williams; Swansea Jig and Tool; A and E Instrumentation; Wheway Watson; the Brigray Group; Robertson Research, which is near the constituency of the hon. Member for Conway; DB Plastics; Delyn Limited; M. Mole and Son; Patol Limited; B.D. Altruck; H.G. Tubes; Four T Engineering; Palmer Research Laboratories, and Pack-a-ladder Limited. Right across Wales, from Anglesey down to Newport, firms have WDA investment in them. The workers of those firms are entitled to know at the earliest opportunity what the Secreary's plans are with regard to those investments. I presume that the agency's role will not be unlike that of the NEB. If it is not, we should be told.
I turn to factory building. I authorised more than 400 advance factories in Wales. I am the first to concede that factory lettings last year of 100, 46 or so in the period for which I was responsible this year, and the 88 provisional allocations—I am sure that there are more by now—deal with only part of the problem. Those of us who have been concerned 1152 with Welsh affairs for a quarter of a century or more know the major structural problems that face us. But when I announced my advance factory programme I was sneered at by the then Opposition for continuing the building of advance factories because I was not able to let those factories immediately. However, our judgment has been vindicated by the take-up of those factories.
In my fifth general programme this year, I announced over 1½ million square footage of factories to be built over the next two years. Will that be allowed to continue? Is it the right hon. Gentleman's intention to continue the rate of building as I announced, or will it be spread over a longer period? That is what the people of Wales, from one end to the other, will be asking.
The right hon. Gentleman was very quiet about the land clearance programme of the WDA. We increased the grant from 85 per cent. to 100 per cent., and that has been welcomed all over Wales. Following Aberfan and matters of that kind, we in the valley communities learned how subsequent generations had to pick up the bill of the past free-for-all, when people lined their pockets and left it to following generations. That was the era of the galvanised entrepreneur, about whom we have heard so much. I do not see much of an aura of galvanised or non-galvanised entrepreneurs about Welsh Office Ministers. But that is the price which the present generation had to pay for the free-for-all of the past.
Again, we are entitled to know whether the grant will remain the same. Will the amount of money to be made available remain the same, or will that also be subject to the axe? In The Economist this week, I read a wonderful whole-page advertisement entitledWhat sort of carrot will it take to persuade you to move to wales?It was an advertisement from the Welsh Development Agency. I am sure that the chairman of the board, Sir David Davis, and the managing director and chief executive, Mr. Ian Gray, would not be party to false advertisements and would not seek to mislead those who would wish to come to Wales.
Therefore, this advertisement in The Economist bears scrutiny for a few 1153 moments. It says that if one moves to Wales, one could benefit from the wide range of Government incentives available. The first question is this: is the agency now saying what it was saying a month or six weeks ago? What change has there been? We have tried to probe in the last few days. What change is there to be in the incentives? Is this a fair and proper advertisement?
The WDA goes on to say that itcan provide finance in the form of loans".Will it be allowed to provide finance in the form of loans or in equity capital to help one to establish in Wales? Is that a fair and proper advertisement in this week's edition of The Economist?
The WDA says that it can let factories with rent-free concessions. Will that be allowed to continue? Or, if one prefers it, the WDA goes on to say:we can build a factory to your requirements".Will that be allowed to continue? It goes on to boast of the improvement in communications, Cardiff Wales airport, the M4 and Freightliner services. It ends with these words:We can advise you on the many Government incentives available.In the absence of information given to this House, in that there has been this prolonged concealment of where the axe will fall, how can the WDA properly advise industry of the incentives available? We do not know.
This is the point at which I look at the heading,What sort of carrot will it take to persuade you to move to Wales?When I look at the small print very closely, I find that it is not a carrot after all; it is a leek with a noose around its neck. That is perhaps symptomatic of the role of the WDA in the future—slow strangulation, cutting off of the bloodstream, not giving it the resources and the money so that it can carry out a major role in face of the undeniable fact, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier, of the major structural changes which we have to face in Wales.
The right hon. Gentleman has never liked the Development Board for Rural Wales because he knows that there is a guilty conscience for the inactivity of the Conservative Government between 1970 1154 and 1974, because they did not replace the old Rural Development Board with anything. I ask one question. Are the social grant provisions of section 26 and other sections of the Act which introduced the DBRW to be allowed to continue? Will the hon. Gentleman help us on that? We should certainly like to know.
In Mid-Wales we are achieving a substantial turnabout of the past, when the then current problem was depopulation. We are seeing this change because of the use of powers and resources given to the WDA.
One matter that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention was the special measures which we have used to very significant effect to help what is undoubtedly a grave problem—unemployment. I am the first to agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. But before I come to the special measures perhaps I may ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us his indication of the effect of these massive public expenditure cuts—if they are to be made—on unemployment in Wales. What estimate is there in the Welsh Office of what will happen if this kind of policy is pursued?
About 91,000 people in Wales have benefited from the special measures, by jobs either created or protected. I want to get this absolutely clear because the right hon. Gentleman used to confuse this matter in the totality of those who had benefited. He sought to add up those who were currently unemployed and to make that the total figure of those who were either unemployed or were being helped by measures. But in my latest figures those currently benefiting total 17,170.
That is a significant figure. It has been a great help in communities right across Wales. We would like to know—and there is a motion on the Order Paper to this effect—the Government's intention as regards the special measures and the youth opportunities programme in particular. The Manpower Services Commission has done a very good job. It has worked very hard. We have substantially met the Easter guarantee of either a job or a training place for the overwhelming number of young people who left school last year without a job. If there is to be a slashing of the youth opportunities programme, certainly that would be taken amiss right across Wales.
1155 I curtail my remarks, although there are a whole host of other questions I should like to ask. I welcome very much the comment made about Concast, at Port Talbot. I declare my interest there. Certainly, from reading between the lines, that work will continue. That is to be welcomed.
We should like to know about the future of Shotton. I found some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer) during the election campaign very peculiar indeed. When challenged yesterday, he did not demonstrate that his role and his comments during the campaign had been honourable.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
I made a direct challenge to the Labour Party during the election campaign and received no reply. I can see nothing dishonourable in that.
§ Mr. Morris
Surely the hon. Gentleman does not imply that it is an honourable way of conducting an election campaign to clutch at a statement without basis or evidence. Yesterday when challenged he failed miserably to produce one iota of evidence for the statement that he categorically hawked from one end of Wales to the other that the decision had been taken. It is an odd way to make a challenge without evidence. What evidence does the hon. Gentleman have? It is not for a Government to deny a statement that is made with absolutely no evidence. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence, let him tell us now. He is not rising to his feet, so he obviously has none. That will be marked on both sides of the House.
Wales is highly dependent on public expenditure. If we had a proper day's debate there are other matters that we should have dealt with, but I merely quote the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday:One thing is already plain—namely, that we shall need to secure a substantial reduction in the spending plans which we have inherited. That is indeed a central element to our strategy."—[Official Report, 22 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 902.]Wales is highly dependent on public expenditure. It is the central element not only to the Government's strategy but to the lives of hundreds of thousands of 1156 people right across Wales. They are entitled to know where the axe will fall, and they have not yet been told. I therefore do not know what the debate is about.
§ Mr. Speaker
There remains but one hour for hon. Members on the Back Benches to speak, and I shall give priority to hon. Members making their maiden speech. We have all been through the agony of waiting, and I hope that all hon. Members will understand when I call first new hon. Members.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Hooson (Brecon and Radnor)
I am grateful for this early opportunity to address the House for the first time. My predecessor, Mr. Caerwyn Roderick, is well known and liked in the constituency and the House for his unfailing courtesy and easy manner. He was born and educated in the constituency and later returned to it to build a fine reputation as a teacher of mathematics and later a lecturer.
In numerous post-war elections my party strove hard to win this seat. It is a remarkable tribute to Mr. Roderick and Lord Watkins, his predecessor, who is better known in this House as Mr. Tudor Watkins, that between them they successfully fended us off for over 40 years. The best prizes in life are those that are hard to achieve, and this prize is quite simply the loveliest constituency in the country. Every maiden speaker announces that his constituency is a thing of beauty. I modestly ask the House to accept that in my case it may place unhesitating reliance on that statement. I trust that that will always be true of every statement that I make.
I invite hon. Members to take their holidays in the constituency if they wait until we have completed the Brecon bypass. We have a longer queue of cars in the town of Brecon and more people coming into the tourist office than anywhere else in South Wales. We boast the Brecon Beacons national park and two of the loveliest valleys in the country, the Wye and the Usk or, to use their even lovelier Welsh names, y Gwy a'r Wysg.
We are also the largest constituency, in area, in England and Wales, and cover one-eighth of Wales. The 91 constituencies of Greater London could be dropped 1157 into Brecon and Radnor and there would still be room for the Brecon Beacons national park. We straddle over several local government boundaries, we reach down into Gwent, and we reach into Mid-Glamorgan, but for the most part we are in Powys, and our sister constituency in Powys is Montgomery. The House ran some risk that it might have been a cousin constituency, with one family representing two parties. In the event, the strongest Conservative wave that Wales has seen in 105 years brought in two Conservative Members for Powys.
With you in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, one can say of a Welsh day that there in the feeling of a family gathering. For that reason, I hope that I shall be allowed to say how much my cousin, Emlyn Hooson, appreciates the kind messages that hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked me to convey to him.
There are two signals that I should like to pick up from the electorate as pointers for this debate. The first comes from the referendum on 1 March, when 80 per cent. of the Welsh voters agreed with those, including the Conservative Party, who urged that, although some innovations were needed, constitutional innovations were less relevant to the immediate needs of Wales than was putting the economy right. Many of us admire the courage and the quality of the contribution that was made to that debate by the independent-minded hon. Members on the Labour Benches. We need a forum, and I believe that we in Wales will gain greatly by the creation of a Welsh Select Committee in which we can achieve discussion that is realistic and formative to enable us to make pragmatic decisions.
The second signal that I want to draw out from the general election, if my general election experience is anything to go by, is that what drew so many Welsh voters to our side was our radical emphasis upon a fresh approach to the economy. The people of Wales want lower income tax, incentives, and more encouragement for small businesses and the self-employed. Nowhere in the country is so large a proportion of the employment of the total working population in small business as it is in Mid-Wales. In Wales as a whole, two-thirds of all the farms are of less than 150 acres. Two-thirds 1158 of all the building contractors employ seven people or fewer. Two-thirds of the hotels have 15 rooms or less.
Those small businesses are the seed beds for new jobs, and all hon. Members are anxious to see unemployment figures coming down. The worst hit area for unemployment in the whole of Brecon and Radnor is Brynmawr, which had the misfortune in the 1930s of having the highest unemployment figure in Wales, and even in April this year the unemployment rate in the area was 11.8 per cent. There are worrying clouds over Smith's Industries in Ystradgynlais, another important town in my constituency.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry was right to emphasise in the debate on Monday that we should go through a gradual transition to a fresh industrial policy. We have a mandate for fresh policies, but we cannot achieve overnight miracles. We must carry the whole nation with us in moving towards new industrial policies, clearly understanding that many workers are sincerely though, I believe, mistakenly fearful of the consequences of new policies.
As a Member for a thinly populated rural area that is totally dependent on road transport for its economy and movement, I must call attention to the hard impact that our area may feel with the growing shortage of petrol and the certainty of rising prices for motor fuel. We shall be looking to the Government to ensure in negotiations with oil companies that the independent operators, who are so important as sources of petrol in the countryside, still have access to supplies.
We must keep a close watch on the real income of the people in the countryside. They have an average real income below the figures for the country as a whole. They will have higher costs to travel long distances to work. We must look very carefully at the impact of fuel costs on the rural parts of Wales and of England.
Our farmers have experienced one of the most severe winters in living memory. The Farmers' Union of Wales this week published an estimate that Welsh farmers' losses of sheep and lambs exceeded 500,000 this winter. The extra 50p allowance went little of the way towards paying the extra costs of the severe winter, 1159 and there was no allowance available to the farmers on marginal land. The farmers' plight was made worse by the fact that the computer strike slowed down the payment of cheques, so that the farmers' borrowings have had to be extended at the banks—and that at a very high rate of interest.
Our real need in farming is not short-term allowances, however. That is not my point. Our great need is long-term stability for agriculture. I know that the farmers of Wales are hopeful in seeing that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State represents a great agricultural area and that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is himself a hill farmer just over the border from Powys. We hope that there is here a good understanding of the problems of agriculture.
The real income of Welsh farmers has fallen over the past few years. We have made commitments that there must be gradual adjustments in the rate of the green pound. I want to call attention to other ways in which we must ensure that the farmers of this country are not at a disadvantage compared with those elsewhere in the European Community. I give two examples.
The first relates to marginal land, which is of great importance to the constituencies of central Wales. The present definition excludes a great deal of marginal land. We need to look at the Community definition of less advantaged areas, because there are funds that could be tapped. This is a most important point on which to work.
A second area in which we must ensure that there is no disadvantage for our Welsh farmers is the export of live animals. We are a very important livestock area, with a great production of beef and sheep. There would be a considerable blow to the economy of farming in the area if there were unreasonable restrictions on the export of live animals. There should, of course, be control to ensure that the transport is decent, but we must not be at a disadvantage in export regulations compared with our Community partners.
I close by referring to a report that is due very shortly and that will be most important for the future of farming—the 1160 report of the Northfield committee on land ownership. We face an increasing crisis in finding an opportunity for young people who were not clever enough to choose farmers as their parents to obtain an entry into farming. I hope that when the Northfield committee has produced various options, both sides of the House will be able to study them in a nonpartisan way. Indeed, I hope that we shall work together on Welsh issues throughout the life of this Parliament. That is why I put such faith in the creation of a Welsh Select Committee.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Dr. Roger Thomas (Carmarthen)
I am very glad to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in this much-truncated Welsh affairs debate. It is a great pleasure to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson), because it gives me an opportunity to say how much I appreciated his kind words for the former hon. Member for his constituency, Caerwyn Roderick.
The very first political name to fall upon my ears as a child in the county of Carmarthen about to enter a grammar school at the beginning of the war was that of Jim Griffiths. His poet brother was then caretaker at that school and, to this day, Jim remains an inspiration to me personally, being from the Amman valley.
In the valley further west, the Member of Parliament was not Jim but an equally revered man named Daniel Hopkin. He was the man who won my seat first for Labour back in 1935. Little did I think that I should be privileged to become its Labour Member of Parliament and to represent here, in the cradle of democracy, people who flout the electoral convention to an extent worthy of a permanent place in the "Guinness Book of Records".
The non-Socialist vote in Carmarthen baffles most people. There is a volatility of opinion. There is a tendency to vote for a personality. In the main, that is the most feasible explanation why, when a Labour Government go out of office, the constituency of Carmarthen returns to the Labour fold.
The converse holds good as well, of course. At the time of the Labour landslide in 1945, when the country at large realised who should be entrusted with the 1161 rebuilding of society after the Second World War, Carmarthen rejected its Labour Member of Parliament. For 12 years the Liberals, taking full advantage of the Conservatives not fielding a candidate, ruled the roost, often holding back the Labour challenge by only a few hundred votes. This fact hardly reflected the very deep respect in which Sir Rhys Hop-kin Morris was held in Wales and in Westminster.
Plaid Cymru finally took the parliamentary plunge at the 1956 general election, and it was my party which suffered the greater setback. Then the Suez crisis was upon us and, at the by-election in the immediate aftermath of that fruitless escapade, the physically diminutive but politically mature daughter of the famous Lloyd George won the hearts and votes of the people of Carmarthen. She remained our Member of Parliament for what was for many a short decade, fighting the 1966 election from her deathbed.
At the ensuing by-election, my immediate predecessor began two full parliamentary terms. The first heralded a nationalist upsurge, in Scotland as well as in the industrial valleys of Wales. It started a process of democratic devolution for the two countries, then of course only a minute ripple but one which 20 years later led to the election through which we have just come.
Advantaged by a first-class legal brain and finding himself in a personal position where he could dedicate himself totally as a young man to the politics of the Principality, my predecessor, Mr. Gwyn-for Evans, had the immense capacity of obtaining total commitment from those sensitive and sympathetic to his analysis of the situation in Wales.
It goes without saying that my analysis and my conclusions differ vastly from his. Culturally, we are probably not all that far apart except on such matters as the fourth television channel. However, our horizons and our aspirations for the people of Wales are poles apart. I acknowledge that although my methods are sincere, they could also, at times, be wrong and misplaced. The love of one's country, its heritage and its well-being are certainly not the prerogative of one political party. The efforts of others with whom one may disagree do not deserve continual spurning and intolerant reaction.
1162 Mr. Gwynfor Evans's two full parliamentary terms were separated by our being represented by a young man of great energy and talent, already mentioned by the Government Front Bench, Mr. Gwynoro Jones. He served the constituency well. But, just as in 1945, so between the two elections of 1974, when things were moving Labour's way, Carmarthen was lost for Labour, and we lost a fine constituency Member of Parliament. The past five years have witnessed torrents of criticism from those now in charge of the Welsh Office as well as from those demanding that our political and economic salvation lies along separatist lines. Labour's measures for combating unemployment were wasteful according to the former and totally inadequate according to the latter.
We in Dyfed much appreciated the Welsh Office announcement last November that money for school capital building projects was to be almost doubled for the coming three years. Much of this money will go on secondary school reorganisation, leaving far too little to replace our many Dickensian primary schools. A greater portion of such money has to be used upon the upkeep of existing old schools which, honestly, are not fit to be places for the education of our younger children. Falling numbers in schools is no excuse for cutbacks. Now we have a great chance for smaller classes, for more nursery provision and for concentrating upon the needs of less academically inclined children to prepare them for their future at work in society.
A vast sum of money will be needed soon for a new school in Milford Haven. That is outside my constituency but I am still a member of the Dyfed education authority and so responsible for that area. This will cost almost as much as Dyfed is being allowed to spend on new school buildings for the coming three years. I can assure the Secretary of State that all hell will be let loose if he sanctions a new school at Milford in order to boost his own, standing at the expense of the remainder of Dyfed.
While we are talking in round figures—in the realms of possibly £3 million or £4 million—will the Secretary of State give the latest thinking on how Dyfed ratepayers are to be given some financial relief for the financing of the famous, or 1163 possibly infamous, Cleddau bridge? Financing specific election promises will probably be of interest to the whole of Wales and not only its south-west corner.
The ever-increasing proportion of our population over retirement age presents us with a huge inescapable problem. The attitude of those in power and how they react to this mounting problem reflects their basic outlook and philosophy. On the doorsteps just four weeks ago I felt very proud of our attitude, as a Labour Party, to the elderly. They in turn were even then openly expressing fears that a new Government would bring into being a more inflexible and decidedly harsher approach. As far as is humanly possible, the elderly should be integrated into the community and should enjoy to the full the social and cultural life of any district.
I have for far too long been intimately connected with the social services committee of a local authority. It is trying its best with a limited budget to go as far as is economically possible. Such committees must have finances to provide comprehensive meals on wheels and home helps without having to carry out offensive investigations into the intimate finances of the elderly.
I assure the Secretary of State that in the country in Wales which we both have the honour to represent, the fears of cutbacks and the provision of even more skimpy and skeletal social services than hitherto is a reality that people are beginning to face as Tory designs are becoming more and more openly understood by all.
We in Wales are very proud of our continuing contribution to evolutionary Socialism essentially based upon our long radical tradition—an ethnic radicalism which grew out of working-class non-conformity.
Being brought up in a South-West Wales mining valley during the late 1930s, when poverty and hardship abounded, has made me deeply distrustful of and antagonistic towards the Tory capitalist motive all my working life. But I have to admit that I have moved in professional circles noted for conservatism with both a small and a capital "C".
1164 These days there may be very little political mileage in harping back to the black days of the thirties, but there has been a more threatening attitude from this Administration to the whole fabric of our society than at any time since those dark days of dejection and destitution. I have a fear that Wales—a land which needs and is dependent upon community financial support more than practically any other part of the United Kingdom—may soon be facing problems on a par with the 'thirties.
We welcome any assurances that the dedication, so apparent hitherto in the Welsh Office, to better east-west communications within Wales will continue under the present incumbents. However, can we expect the same degree of urgency and total commitment? Can we in West Wales still look forward to having a first-class dual carriageway west of the M4 to the Whitland side of St. Clears?
We are lucky on unemployment in the Carmarthen area—a rate of only 3.6 per cent. But in areas north and west of the county agriculture and tourist industries are not enough. Despite better prospects, which are the direct result of the actions of the former Secretary of State with his enlightened road and factory policy, new and diverse industries are needed to press home the obvious advantage of better communication.
Last week I went along to offer moral support to the Dyfed stand at The Sunday Times business-to-business exhibition at Earls Court. Possibly as one of Dyfed's four Members of Parliament, the Secretary of State was also invited. No doubt he did his duty by his prestigious presence. The selling of Dyfed is an immense problem, but the policies of this Administration will make the task of our industrial officers ever so much greater.
The Conservatives took a long while to stop being cynical about the Welsh Development Agency. With the set of priorities that this Administration have announced, there will be other areas much nearer the main population centres of Britain and the Continent that will be fighting for job-creating enterprises. When, as the Tories expect, the total of jobless creeps up to the 2 million mark, what magical cure will the Secretary of 1165 State have for attracting jobs and industries to Dyfed? It will probably embrace the three great personal virtues from the thirteenth chapter of Corinthians—faith, hope and charity, and the Tories are not noted for their handing out of the last.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your kindness in calling me, and I hope that I shall have the honour to be called again. I ask that before you have heard what I shall say. It is difficult to follow the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas). I hope that I shall certainly have the opportunity of hearing him again on many occasions.
I should like to thank right hon. and hon. Members for being present this evening. I hope that they will not leave the Chamber, however tedious I may be. I hope that they will not act like the guests at one dinner party of which I heard. There the post-prandial speaker went on at interminable length until the audience tiptoed out of the room one by one, leaving a solitary guest at the end of the table. The speaker turned to him and said "I think that I should thank you for having remained to listen to me", to which he received the reply "That is quite all right. I am the next speaker."
It is inhibiting and awesome enough for a new Member to make his maiden speech in this honourable House, but I am afraid, as you will have detected, Mr. Speaker, that I have an added disability tonight, and that is in my voice, which appears to be leaving me. The sole consolation that I can offer the House is that I cannot detain it too long.
I think that I probably have the most difficult task of any new Member, for two reasons. First, I follow in the footsteps of Cledwyn Hughes, known colloquially as Mr. Anglesey. He was universally revered and respected in this House and elsewhere, but deeply so in his constituency. It is no exaggeration to say that for 28 years he kept Anglesey for the Labour Party. The strength of his personality alone did that. A measure of his popularity in the constituency is the number of Conservatives that I have discovered there who have told me that they used to vote for Mr. Hughes. That shows perhaps that Conservative voters 1166 are discriminating if, at times, somewhat politically naive. I believe that Mr. Hughes will be sadly missed in this House, and I am certainly glad that I followed rather than supplanted him.
The second reason why my task is difficult is that people will expect great things of me, since I achieved the highest winning swing in the United Kingdom—12½ per cent. It was described in The Economist as the most remarkable gain of the election. I suppose that my quest for superlatives is assisted by my surname, but I feel that it will be very difficult to attempt to live up to that.
I must also remember the words of advice given by Lloyd George to his daughter Megan, who was the previous incumbent to Cledwyn Hughes in Anglesey. I believe that Lloyd George said to his daughter "It is easier for a gander to pass through the eye of a needle than for a Tory to be elected in Anglesey." This Parliament has now seen the first-ever Conservative Member elected for Anglesey, and I am sure that the island will not stray from the true path again.
I know that it is customary on these occasions to describe one's constituency as the most beautiful in the whole United Kingdom, and I recognise that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson) followed the convention, doing precisely that, but I speak with the certainty that I am right when I so describe my constituency—and, anyway, how many right hon. and hon. Members here tonight would be so uncharitable as to gainsay me on the occasion of my maiden speech?
Anglesey has everything to offer. It has a beautiful coastline of caves and bays which has afforded shelter to small boats over hundreds—indeed, thousands—of years and which now attracts thousands of visitors each year. It is undulating and low-lying, with remarkably equable temperatures throughout the year, with very small seasonal variations. The House will probably have gathered by now that I am doing a public relations job for the tourist board of Anglesey.
I should add that spring arrives in Anglesey two weeks earlier than it does in the heartland of Wales. Moreover—I say this with apologies to my hon. Friends here tonight—Anglesey is the driest 1167 county in Wales, which is perhaps saying something. In fact, Holyhead itself has more sunshine than do even the coastal resorts of North and West Wales.
I believe that Anglesey is a paradise island. It has what I regard as the call of the Sirens about it, which is exemplified by the way in which visitors come to the island. They hear the call of the Sirens and they stay. I know your views on the island of Anglesey, Mr. Speaker, and I feel that the mysticism of the ancient Druids still lingers on and lures the unwary traveller and holidaymaker to remain in that idyllic world. This, surely, is why the electorate has grown by more than 10 per cent. over the past five years.
I believe also that Anglesey presents a very good cameo for the whole of Wales. Agriculture is extremely important, and I am glad that the Government have removed the threat of wealth tax and back-door agricultural land nationalisation with which agriculture was so seriously threatened during the past few years. But we must now, I think, be careful not to introduce a new threat to our most important industries—and notably agriculture—the threat of soaring fuel costs, the ramifications of which can be so desperately and disastrously widespread.
In Anglesey we have a variety of industries. We have the power station at Wylfa, a thriving and expanding port served by British Rail, and many light industries. But, unfortunately—there must, I suppose, always be an unfortunate element introduced in a speech of this kind—there is deep sadness in Anglesey, as there is in the rest of Wales, in that we have the most appalling unemployment.
Unemployment in Anglesey rose from 8 per cent. when the Conservatives were last in office to the disastrous figure of some 14 per cent. under the Labour Government. I shall not be as cruel to the Labour Government as the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) was to the Conservative Government in 1972, when, in Opposition, he attacked them and, referring to unemployment rates at half the level to which they peaked under the Labour Government, said:Ever since the day of John Maynard Keynes, any Government allowing unemployment 1168 rates to rise not even as high as this rate have been guilty, if not of a criminal act, certainly of criminal negligence."—[Official Report, 24 January 1972; Vol. 829. c. 1089.]It would be asking too much to have such a distinguished audience as that of the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) listening to my maiden speech. However, it is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is not here, as in July 1974 he was quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying:I'm not prepared to sit in this place and preside over mass unemployment.The Government have relieved him of the embarrassment of presiding over mass unemployment. As for sitting here, who knows what the future holds?
The Conservative Government have the right ideas for trying to ameliorate the disastrous effects of unemployment, which are the principal affliction in the side of the people of Wales. It is against that background of high unemployment that I consider Anglesey Aluminium. The company would like to expand and provide some 500 extra jobs for my constituents. It was prevented from doing so by the previous Government and the CEGB, which would not provide electricity at a cost as competitive as that charged by other countries to their similar industries.
That was regrettable. We currently consume in the United Kingdom only a little more aluminium than we actually produce. However, by 1985 we shall have to import around half of our aluminium, and that will be in the economic climate of a world shortfall in aluminium supplies. By providing cheaper electricity to Anglesey Aluminium we would not only assist the United Kingdom's requirements but provide much-needed jobs in Anglesey. I know the prospects are not very great, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will consider the problem carefully.
Where else can we find future employment in Wales? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor, who spoke about the small businesses. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, more than half the employment in Wales comes from businesses employing fewer than 200 people. I conducted a survey of small businesses in Anglesey and that showed conclusively that they all wished to expand and take 1169 on extra staff. But they dared not do so because of the employment protection legislation.
That is not party political propaganda from a new Conservative Back Bencher. That is solid fact. Those in my constituency who try to run small businesses and wish to take on extra staff cannot do so. That is why I welcome the Conservative Government's proposal to review employment protection legislation and to reduce Government interference in small business. That is where a tremendous capacity for employment lies in future.
There is a great need for the activities of the Welsh Development Agency. I welcome the comments of my right hon. Friend on the WDA. I also welcome the new scheme, announced today, which guarantees loans of up to £50,000 to business men with interesting projects who are unable to provide the necessary security. We must allow the Welsh Development Agency a degree of flexibility financially to assist the businesses most in need. It appears that the small business unit now gives assistance only to wholesalers or manufacturers. There are many others occupied in small businesses who need similar assistance but who are not necessarily involved in wholesaling or manufacturing.
One of my constituents who is in the greengrocery and canned food retail business wishes to expand and take on extra staff. However, the Welsh Development Agency has not assisted him. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at the matter to make sure that those who can produce extra employment facilities in industries and small businesses will be assisted.
There is need for financial assistance, especially in Wales. But there must be a greater scrutiny over financial assistance and where it goes. Automatic assistance was given to the Milford Haven Gulf refinery. That investment was unnecessary, as it would have come in any event. The cost to the taxpayer of each job was about £38,500. All Members of Parliament, certainly Government supporters, will agree that that is a ridiculous way in which to squander public money.
That, incidentally, compares most unfavourably with the Welsh tourist trade, in which jobs are being created at a cost to the taxpayer of less than £2,000 per job. This is where we should concentrate. 1170 We must look to the jobs for the future. They must be provided in the areas of greatest need. We must create the greatest number of jobs for the least amount of money. That is why I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider where we shall get the best value for money in employment. We must ensure that we create the extra jobs that are so desperately needed in Wales.
It always saddened me when people spoke of unemployment statistics. Perhaps it is only when we become Members of Parliament, having spoken to so many people, that we realise that they are not only statistics. They relate to people, our constituents, the Welsh people, who have lost their jobs and who are now crying out for them. The Welsh poet summarised the situation when he said:Cyfocth gwlad yw ei thrigolionwhich means that the wealth of a nation is in its people. Members of Parliament on both sides of the House should never forget that.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
I compliment the hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best) on his speech. If he can speak like that at such length with little voice, there will be many late-night sittings in the future.
On the first occasion that I spoke, I addressed myself with the same pride as you did, Mr. Speaker, when you were elected to preside over these intricate proceedings. You enjoyed the unanimous support of all Members of Parliament. I am sure you fully appreciated that some of us were prouder than others. I refer especially to the Welsh Members of Parliament who witnessed and participated in your election. You, Mr. Speaker, and I share something that is unique. We are both Rhondda Valley born, sons of miners, and justly proud of our heritage. It is most regrettable that some of our nearest relatives did not live to share these proud moments, especially your mother and my parents and dear sister. You, Mr. Speaker, have already made a substantial contribution to the history of this country.
Against that background, it is with trepidation and sincerity of purpose that I am privileged to represent Ogmore. Having lived and worked there for 12 years, I am alive to the problems of the 1171 area. Most of them stem from a lack of concern by the previous mine owners, who exploited the area to the fullest degree. They were responsible for the dereliction and environmental rape that was well known throughout the mining valleys of Wales. I am sure that Parliament and our people would never tolerate that again.
I am, nevertheless, pleased to state that Ogmore, like many other mining valleys in Wales over the past decade, has benefited from the degree of concern and drive to clean up our communities and improve our environment. I sincerely hope that this will continue with the present Government and that there will be no cuts in land reclamation schemes.
When elected to serve as Member of Parliament for Ogmore, I fully appreciated the extent of my responsibilities, especially having to succeed the very high calibre of representation provided by Walter Padley, John Evans, Vernon Hartshorn and many others. I can only pray that I shall be able to maintain their standards and give the constituents the representation that they deserve.
I am fortunate, Mr. Speaker, to have inherited a constituency with a sound industrial base, brought about over a number of years by the policies of regional development, and in particular the extension of the M4 to Pencoed. Here I pay special tribute to the untiring efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). It was through his efforts and those of the Welsh Development Agency that we were able to get the Ford factory in Bridgend and the Rockwool factory at Pencoed. There has also been the investment at Port Talbot steelworks and the extensive assistance afforded to industrial development generally. I therefore view with great reservation the Government's statements made during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I hope that the Secretary of State for Wales will give me assurances that there will be no reductions or cuts in these developments, and that, to enable the local authorities to continue their extension of services to cover a growth area, there will be no cuts in public expenditure in Ogmore.
My worry over the last few days on the whole question of public expenditure 1172 cuts is related to the promised development of a new hospital in Bridgend. The proposed commencement date is 1980. It would be a great relief to be assured that the axe will not fall on this development, and, indeed, that an earlier starting date will be announced.
The right hon. Gentleman will also appreciate that, with a growth area of the magnitude envisaged in Bridgend, adequate schools, health care, houses and leisure services are essential to meet the growing needs of the population. Some 3,000 to 4,000 of my constituents work at Port Talbot steelworks. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also be able to assure me that he will consider an extension of financial investment there.
I review the past few weeks, Mr. Speaker, as a nightmare. First, as a new Member, I have been struggling to master the complexities of this House, to find my way around the corridors with letters and papers under my arm, and with no desk on which to work. Next, we have been presented with a Queen's Speech that will cause unrest and upheaval worse than I had ever anticipated. It is regrettable that Wales, too, must suffer the effects, when the people of Wales kept faith with Labour and gave the Labour Party 47.9 per cent. of their votes, electing 21 Labour Members, compared with 32.8 per cent. of the votes to the Conservatives and 11 Conservative Members elected. Thus, despite the referendum result, we might still have benefited had we accepted the need for a Welsh Assembly.
I hope that the Government will also give early consideration to the review of local government reorganisation and to some form of regional government, which I believe is essential to Wales in particular and to the country in general.
The past few days and the debate on the Queen's Speech, together with certain reservations expressed, might allow me to wake up from this horrible nightmare and find that we are still to be a united nation, that we shall not make the same mistakes as we made in the past, that we are not embarking on confrontation and that we shall see the implementation of a commitment in the Conservative 1173 Government manifesto. Page 9 of that document reads:A strong and responsible trade union movement could play a big part in our economic recovery. We cannot go on, year after year, tearing ourselves apart in increasingly bitter and calamitous industrial disputes. In bringing about economic recovery, we should all be on the same side. Government and public, management and unions, employers and employees, all have a common interest in raising productivity and profits, thus increasing investment and employment, and improving real living standards for everyone.".Having listened to the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, when she said "I am not confronting anyone. I hope they will not confront me", I sincerely hope that the acoustics of the House distorted the tone of her voice. It surely was not in keeping with the commitment that I have just quoted from her party's manifesto.
I am attempting to be non-controversial in my maiden speech and have highlighted only the topics which need urgent answers. There are other matters that require attention, such as tax relief on widows' pensions and on the cost of travel to work, leasehold reform, and many others which must be left for a future occasion.
I think that it is fitting and proper that a miner's son, representing a constituency with mining interests, should say a word or two on the subject of colliery closures. In my constituency there are five collieries. Recently one was closed and the staff transferred to a nearby colliery. I often wonder what amount of coal is left in the ground when a colliery is closed. For economic reasons, and considering the escalating price of petrol, I wonder whether our energy policy should be reorganised so that we can save some for future generations. I ask for a firm assurance that there will be no further colliery closures until supplies are completely exhausted.
In conclusion, I promise the House that my future contributions will be based on my belief in social justice and an egalitarian society, and my firmly held conviction that a humanitarian approach must be made to solve our problems with emphasis on need and not greed.
§ Mr. Speaker
The accents in this debate have been sheer music for us all, I know, However, I appeal to hon. Members whom I now call to make three-minute 1174 speeches, abandoning the speech that they intended to make, before I call the Front Bench.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Geraint Howells (Cardigan)
First of all, I congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). He was constructive in his approach and I believe that his tone was sincere, and I wish him well in the future.
As we are debating Welsh affairs, Mr. Speaker, I think that it is my duty to congratulate you on your re-election to the post that you have graced with such success over the past few years and to wish you well in the coming Parliament, which will, I am sure, be no less interesting and demanding than the last.
I also offer my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Edwards) on his appointment as Secretary of State for Wales and to the two hon. Members who have been appointed as Under-Secretaries of State at the Welsh Office. They have been entrusted with a most important task, although not with the wholehearted support of the Welsh electorate. Nevertheless, they must face the considerable challenge that the problem of Wales will present over, possibly, the next five years. I wish them well.
At last it has been recognised by central Government, as witnessed by the expansion of the Welsh Office over recent years, that Wales has her own problems and needs that must be met. It is my hope that the Secretary of State can bring an open mind to these problems and not feel that he has to carry out rigid policies based on Tory principles that are unsuitable for Wales and her economic future. There are still many radicals left in Wales.
I should like the right hon. Gentleman to remember that in parts of my constituency, for example, there are unemployment figures in the region of 13.5 per cent., and that Mid-Wales needs Government help to bring in more industries and more employment opportunities.
As I have only a minute left, I turn to the economic future of Wales, which is important to us all, and also to our cultural heritage. I should be glad to know what value the present Government place on this aspect of Welsh life. I know that at the outset the Secretary of State outlined his views on the language, but many of us consider that if we are to preserve the Welsh language a great deal of money 1175 will have to be spent on Welsh matters and education. For example, money will have to be spent on bilingual education in our schools, as well as the setting up of separate bilingual schools in Wales. Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to implement in full the Bowen recommendations on road signs?
In his opening remarks the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government would look after the interests of the national Eisteddfod. Being a proud Eisteddfod man myself, I hope that in the years to come the Government will look after the interests of the national Eisteddfod, of which we are all so proud.
The question of a fourth channel in Wales also needs to be examined in detail. I should like to know what plans there are to ensure that there is an adequate amount of Welsh language programming and that the quality of those programmes will be guaranteed by a large injection of money. I hope that the Welsh language programmes will not all be shown at the most unpopular viewing times and that those responsible for programming will make room for flexibility in their plans. I have heard, and read, that the Government hope to introduce Welsh programmes between 4 o'clock and 7 o'clock. In my view, there should be more flexibility. Perhaps we should take a year to examine the whole set-up.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)rose—
§ Mr. Thomas
I congratulate everyone, Mr. Speaker. I should like to follow what the hon. Member fro Cardigan (Mr. Howells) said about broadcasting and to stress that I welcome the consultations that are to be held by the Home Secretary on this issue.
The one point that concerns me is that the decision already announced by the Government to set up a second ITV channel throughout the United Kingdom should not undermine the proposal that is generally supported in Wales for the fourth channel to be used for a Welsh language service. Having had the Crawford, Siberry, Annan and Littler reports, and a proposal from the previous 1176 Administration to set up a Welsh language television council which could run the channel, it is essential that we find a way of ensuring that the Welsh language television council can become a subcommittee of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, so that there can be representation there and so that the channel can be based on co-operation between the BBC and the commercial contractor in Wales. We should not have a situation in which it will not be possible for the major producer of Welsh language material—the BBC—to co-operate on a national channel. It is essential that we should not allow the fact that the Conservative Party has quite naturally surrendered the fourth channel to the commercial interests to undermine the need for Welsh language public service broadcasting.
§ Mr. Wigley
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Without casting anything against yourself, because it is a matter outside your control, perhaps I may point out how ridiculous it is that when we have a Welsh day debate once every two and a half years a Plaid Cymru Member is allowed only two minutes to speak in it.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he has not made a point of order, and I would not have allowed him to say what he has said if I had known what it was.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda)
Perhaps at the outset I can offer my congratulations to the maiden speakers. To show how unbiased I am, I begin by congratulating the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson) and Anglesey (Mr. Best). I think that they will have to take their fight outside this Chamber to decide which is the most beautiful constituency or county of Wales. I look forward to the opportunity of hearing them again when I shall not be bound by the convention of being polite, kind and courteous to maiden speakers.
I was particularly pleased to hear the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) and Ogmore (Mr. Powell). I am glad to welcome them to the House. Not only is my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore a son of Rhondda—as you are, Mr. Speaker—but I am a son of Rhondda. My hon. Friend and I have been allies 1177 in many fights in the past. It looks as though we shall be allies in the future.
This debate—I was going to say "this Welsh day debate", but I think that I should say "this Welsh two hours and 40 minutes"—is not an occasion when we judge the Government on their actions. In fairness to them, they have not been in office long enough to do much harm—yet. Therefore, instead of judging them on their actions, we are forced to rely on their speeches and the content of the Conservative manifesto and the Queen's Speech.
The section of the Queen's Speech which most frightens the life out of me is the part of the sentence which refers torestricting the claims of the public sector on the nation's resources".My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) tried to get some information from the Secretary of State on this matter. The Secretary of State cannot remain silent for ever on it. We shall need to know what cuts in public expenditure will take place concerning Wales.
As several hon. Members have quite clearly indicated today, we in Wales are more dependent on public expenditure than most of the regions of England. Public expenditure per head of population in Wales is 10 per cent. more than the national average. That is not because we in Wales are spendthrifts. Neither is it because we are scroungers. It is because our needs in Wales are different, and in some cases our needs are greater than those in other areas.
I look at my own constituency. There are no private schools in Rhondda. All my children depend on a publicly financed education system. There are no private hospitals there. All my sick people depend on a publicly financed National Health Service. There are no private nursing homes for elderly people. My elderly people depend on publicly financed social services.
That pattern is not unique to Rhondda. It is a pattern to be found almost throughout Wales. It shows that our needs, the needs of our children, of our sick people and of our elderly people, can be met only through a high level of public expenditure.
1178 That is why I viewed with alarm the Chancellor's speech yesterday when he talked so easily of these great cuts in public expenditure. I must tell the Secretary of State that we shall be watching, and all Wales will be watching, to see that these essential services, on which the quality of life of our people depends, are not harmed.
My right hon. and learned Friend intervened yesterday on the question of the rate support grant. I have taken part in rate support grant debates for many years. Almost without exception, criticism has come from both sides of the House on the regression analysis method used in deciding the level of rate support. The present system is not sufficiently flexible to reflect the differing needs in Wales.
We were working towards a separate system for Wales to take greater account of the different needs of rural areas. Hon. Members on both sides of the House over the last few years have frequently indicated their dissatisfaction with the way that the present system works in Wales and adversely affects rural areas. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider the advantages of a fairer distribution and a separate Welsh rate support grant system.
I represent Rhondda and believe that the coal industry is vital to the economy of Wales. When the mineworkers or we on this side of the House talk of protecting the coal industry, we mean more than saving jobs. We mean preserving an industry with an essential role to play in satisfying the nation's energy needs in the years ahead. When North Sea oil runs out, as it will, we shall need a viable and healthy coal industry. That will require pits and men. We must ensure that our industry, particularly in South Wales, is healthy now. Without that, there will be no men or pits for the future.
Investment in the South Wales coalfields has run at about £80 million over the past three years. I was a member of the tripartite committee, and we examined levels of investment. That investment is already beginning to pay off, and was evidence of the Labour Government's commitment to the future of the industry in Wales. The report of that committee is there for everyone to see. It calls for new investment, a programme to deal with losses on 1179 current operations and Government financial support to sustain the coalfield, which all require more public expenditure.
If the Government are sincere in wanting to preserve a coal industry, they must accept an increase in public expenditure. That is necessary to preserve the industry not only for the miners, their families and the mining communities but to ensure that we have a coal industry to supply our energy needs in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman may think that I am sensitive about housing, but I have had to wrestle with the problem for a while. His selective description of the housing situation was a little less than fair. He confirmed that one of our problems in Wales has been the inability of many local authorities to use the resources allocated to them, and I hope that the figures for the current year will prove that we took some steps in that direction. He painted a gloomy picture, but he did not mention that in 1973, the last year for which his party was responsible, the number of completions in Wales was 3,377, the lowest figure for nearly 20 years.
The right hon. Gentleman also quoted the 1976 survey. When that was published I said that we could not be satisfied with the number of houses in Wales lacking one or more of the standard amenities. The survey showed 18 per cent. of houses in Wales in that category. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that is far too many, but he did not say that the 1973 survey showed 25 per cent. of houses in that position. There has been an improvement, but there is still a long way to go.
By compelling local authorities to sell council houses we do not do anything to solve the housing problem. Not one house is added to the housing stock. I am not opposed to home ownership, and the figures clearly show that we have allowed local authorities in Wales to sell houses. The number sold in Wales last year was 1,031, compared with mere hundreds sold in 1975. I believe it is wrong to force local authorities to sell, because local authorities are elected and they can best determine the housing policies for their area. It is the better estates that will be sold, and local authorities will be left with the high management cost estates. The sale of council 1180 houses makes it much more difficult for local authorities to arrange transfers of people to more suitable properties, particularly older people who want to move from bigger to smaller houses. The size of the housing stock will be depleted.
Does the Secretary of State intend to keep in being the Welsh housing consultative committee? I hope he does. The committee consists of officials from his Department, local authority officials and local authority members. They are people who have an expertise in housing in Wales and who can give valuable advice to the Ministers concerned.
Several hon. Members referred to the shortage of fuel supplies in various parts of Wales. This is not a party political point. The Leader of the House earlier today said that fuel supplies were being shared out fairly throughout the country. I have had brought to my notice two cases which do not confirm that. The Rhondda Metal Company in my constituency telephoned to tell me of the difficulties it had experienced. A bakery in Merthyr, the Pant bakery, was told by its normal fuel distributors that they could not supply it any longer, and neither can other distributors supply it.
The hon. Member for Anglesey said that there was strong evidence that small firms are experiencing difficulty in getting adequate fuel supplies. If that is true, I suggest to the Secretary of State that it would be worth considering setting up a small unit or point of contact in the Welsh Office so that people can get advice, otherwise many small firms—and other firms for that matter—will find themselves in serious difficulties in the near future.
I was glad to hear the Secretary of State welcome the marginal land survey. He said that it was a bit late, but everyone makes that sort of remark, depending on which side of the House he sits. I urge the right hon. Gentleman at least to agree that the survey shall continue and to do everything he possibly can to speed it up. I realise that there are difficulties, but we should give a push to that survey.
Do the Government intend to continue next year the extra 50p on the hill sheep subsidy, or will it not be uprated? The increase should be more than 50 per cent. next year. If the Minister cannot reply to that, I shall understand. Perhaps he will drop me a line.
1181 I congratulate the Secretary of State and his two colleagues, and I wish them well in their new office. I believe that they bring to that office good intentions. I suspect sometimes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I do not believe that they are men of ill will. However, some of the policies that they are advancing are not the policies that I would commend. All that I can pray, for the well-being of the people of Wales, is that the Tories' actions will not too closely match the extravagant language they have used in the past few weeks.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Michael Roberts)
It has been good to revive the tradition of a Welsh day debate, albeit a very short one, after a lapse of several years. Some will question whether having a debate that clashed with the Wales v. England match at Wembley was appropriate timing, particularly in view of the score, which was 0–0—a little disappointing.
As usual, the debate has been of a very high standard. We have had four maiden speeches, all of them well-informed and balanced contributions. Each new Member has paid tribute to the work and character of a distinguished predecessor who had made a notable mark in the life of the House.
The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Dr. Thomas) referred to a large number of distinguished Members who have served in that constituency, going back to the renowned Daniel Hopkin, who had such a wonderful reputation in the constituency.
I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson) paid tribute to my constituent Caerwyn Roderick, who was a man of principle and a kind and compassionate man.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Carmarthen and Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor and for Angelsey (Mr. Best) on their contributons. I wish also to express the view, which I am sure is universally held, that we eagerly await their future contributions to debates.
My hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnor and Anglesey both 1182 referred to the problems of Welsh agriculture. I give them the assurance that we shall seek to ensure that there is no discrimination against the Welsh farmer when we discuss matters concerning the CAP in Brussels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor also raised the question of the possibility of a Select Committee on Welsh affairs. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we want to improve the scrutiny that Parliament gives to Welsh affairs. We shall therefore give Parliament an opportunity to consider proposals for a Welsh Select Committee.
The hon. Member for Ogmore raised the question of the new hospital at Bridgend and asked for a specific guarantee. He asked that construction should start earlier than next year. The position is clear. It will start not this year but at the end of next year. I can give the guarantee that it will go ahead.
The advent of my hon. Friends the Members for Anglesey, Montgomery (Mr. Williams) and Brecon and Radnor, covering geographically four of the 13 pre-1973 counties, is unquestionably a watershed in Welsh political life. In a recent speech the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) spoke of the Lab-cur Party's having been conned by the media into believing that Plaid Cymru, and not the Conservatives, was the main enemy of Labour in the Principality. Plaid Cymru's 29 forfeited deposits and its fall in the total vote from 10.8 per cent. to 8.1 per cent. should have persuaded everyone that Plaid Cymru and the idea of separatism attracts only a tiny minority in Wales. That is media myth No. 1 totally destroyed.
I am far too long experienced in Welsh politics to ignore the strength of the Labour Party in Wales or to underestimate the loyalty of its supporters. Even in defeat, it still won 21 of the 36 Welsh seats. The right hon. and learned Member for Aberavan (Mr. Morris) described himself as the best shop steward that the Conservative Party had, and I thank him for that. There may be justification for the claim. But we do not think of him in those terms. We think of him in far more exalted terms. We regard him as the best recruiting sergeant that we have ever had. But at least we can say that he can spot an elephant when it 1183 sits on his doorstep, and he is very busy rallying his troops from any Left-wing deviation.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman told Labour's recent Welsh post mortem at Llandudno that more radical policies would turn this year's election defeat for Labour into next time's thrashing for Labour. He is urging the Labour Party to win back the middle ground which we have captured, so we must not be in any way complacent. I assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there will be strong opposition to his proposal to win back the middle ground and that opposition will not only come from his own side of the House.
The second myth which has been destroyed in this election is that the Tory Party is not a truly Welsh party and that it has no standing in the Principality. Plaid Cymru, the Liberals and, indeed, the Labour Party in the valleys have learned the folly of that piece of self-deception. With Labour holding only two seats north of Merthyr Tydfil, the political map of Wales has turned blue.
This summer we are planning a coach tour to study the scenic beauty of Wales in Tory territory all the way from Chepstow to Holyhead, and I should welcome the remnants of Plaid Cymru and the Liberals to join us, not to say some members of the official Opposition.
I have been studying the facts, as I always do, and I am sure that Plaid Cymru will be interested to learn that the swing to the Conservatives has been even greater in Welsh-speaking Wales than in the rest of the Principality. Welshmen, and Welsh Conservatives especially, invented tactical voting years before it was discovered by the psephologists. It can never be said again in Merioneth, Carmarthen and Caernarvon that a Conservative vote is a wasted vote. The Conservative party has emerged as a major political force in a two-party system in Wales.
The hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Jones) referred to the rate support grant and asked the Government to look at the possibility of a separate rate support system for Wales. We shall consider the case for it, but we shall not be rushed into any hasty and ill-considered actions.
1184 The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked where the axe would fall. We made it clear throughout the election campaign that there would be expenditure cuts. But obviously it is far too early for us to bring details before the House. We want to assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we must not fall into the trap of assuming that every expenditure cut is necessarily a disaster. Expenditure cuts must be balanced against the incentives and tax cuts that will be part of the package. We believe that the package that we shall present will have a greater impact on the prosperity of Wales and a greater impact on unemployment in Wales than the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is our recruiting sergeant, achieved in his five years as Secretary of State.
In his opening speech my right hon. Friend said that I would try to say something about education and roads. I will try to do that because hon. Members have raised these issues. On education, the Government attach the highest priority to educational standards. We are committed to do anything we can to raise them. There is ample evidence of the need for increasing and improving education standards in Wales. Publications issued by the Welsh Office over the past year leave us in no doubt that the picture is very disturbing. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the initiative taken by the former Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State in their investigations into the problems facing Welsh education.
My criticism of the Labour Party in its approach to education in Wales is that it has been too prone to accept the achievement of a comprehensive scheme and then not to follow it up to see that the scheme has proved satisfactory. There is no question that we are committed to comprehensive education in Wales. We must all work as hard as possible to improve standards. We, as a Government, intend to pursue the achievement of standards with vigour. It is intolerable that over one-quarter of all young people leaving schools in Wales should have no graded results at GCE or CSE. This figure is all the more disturbing when compared with the corresponding English figure of under 15 per cent. I see clearly our commitment to raising educational standards and our equally firm determination to extend the rights 1185 and responsibilities of parents, including their right to express views, and to have them listened to, on which schools their children should attend.
We want to see schools publish more detailed prospectuses including details of their pupils' examination performance, properly interpreted. I readily acknowledge the need for fair interpretation of this sort of information. Such prospectuses can do nothing but good.
Being a parent is the greatest responsibility any, of us can undertake. We must give parents the chance to exercise their influence and their choice in the interests of their children. We shall be happy to listen to views from all quarters. If we can involve the parents of our children in the choices and the influences that operate in our schools, I am confident that those schools will give a better service and will be better places for education. There is need for that in Wales.
In aspects of education, as in the whole range of subjects before us today, I find myself in disagreement with many of the views expressed on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Rhondda made clear that he held very different views from those of us who sit on the Government side. He was generous enough to say that he thought—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.